INHERITED genes may be more of a cause of cancer than the medical profession had previously thought, researchers in Scotland and Italy said yesterday.

A new study into a rare type of pancreatic cancer reveals that we may inherit more than twice the number of “cancer genes” than experts previously stated.

The research was led by the ARC-Net Research Centre of the University Hospital of Verona, Italy, with significant contributions from Glasgow University, and was published yesterday in Nature magazine.

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Scientists looked at neuroendocrine tumours (NETs), specifically those which are found in the pancreas (PaNETs), the most common form of this rare cancer – it is the form of cancer that caused the death of Apple’s guiding genius Steve Jobs.

Researchers found that there were a significant number of inherited mutations in this type of cancer – 17 per cent of PaNETs cases looked at were linked to inherited faulty genes. Previously it was thought only five per cent of tumours were linked to hereditary genes.

Research leader Professor Aldo Scarpa said: “By sequencing the genome of these tumours we have decrypted the landscape of genetic alterations of these tumours. This discovery will allow us to target the development of specific therapies that aim to counter the alterations identified.”

Professor Andrew Biankin, the Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Surgery and Director of the Translational Research Centre, said: “This study is a great example of International Team Science under the auspices of the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

“One of the most provocative findings is that these cancers had a larger than expected inherited gene defect that likely contributed to their development, potentially raising challenges in the clinic and refocusing future studies in the area.”