Why are Tissue Samples Important to Cancer Genomics?


Dr. Marsten Linehan
Video: The Role of Tumor Samples in TCGA (03:02)

Biospecimens are tissue and fluid samples taken from the human body that can be used for cancer diagnosis and analysis. Biospecimens are critical to cancer research because they contain an extraordinary amount of biological information, written in the language of cells, genes and proteins that can identify the biological characteristics of cancer cells. Biospecimens used for genomic research must meet a stringent set of criteria so that DNA and RNA removed from the tissue can be used by advanced genomic analysis and sequencing technologies.

The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) strategy for tissue collection couples quantity with quality to yield the most robust data set possible:

  1. TCGA examines a very large number of samples – up to 500 samples for each tumor type.  This provides the statistical power needed to produce a comprehensive genomic profile of each cancer – information essential to identifying the best targets for drug development.
  2. All TCGA research teams study the same samples.  This results in a very complete, detailed and reliable view of cancer genomes since every sample is analyzed by every platform.
  3. For all TCGA cancer samples studied, both a sample of cancerous and normal tissue has been collected. This allows researchers to identify the genomic changes that may play a role in development of the cancer studied.

TCGA has taken great strides to ensure that the tissues studied are of the highest quality. However, certain cancers are difficult to collect from patients and pose a challenge to study using various genomic analysis technologies. The availability of both the quality and quantity of tumor and matched-normal tissue is a major factor in which cancers have been selected for study in TCGA. Learn more about the cancers selected for TCGA.  

Donating Tissue to Cancer Research 

Donation of tissue by individuals and patients is an immensely important gift to the research process. Medical researchers use tissue donations to make important discoveries that improve the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. If you or a family member has cancer, you may be able to donate samples that are being collecting during a medical procedure, such as a surgical resection of a tumor. Ask your doctor or nurse what samples you may be able to donate to help advance cancer research and care. 

In addition to offering to donate tissue to scientific research, you can participate in other important ways. You can help by bringing TCGA and other programs in the field of cancer genomics to the attention of other people in your life, including your doctor. By encouraging doctors to understand the importance of TCGA and cancer genomics, you are helping us promote a vital dialogue about how genomic information will accelerate cancer care.

Learn more about donating tissue to cancer research through the links listed below:

How You Can Help Medical Research: Donating your Blood, Tissue, and Other Samples

National Cancer Institute Biospecimens and Biorepositories Research Branch

TCGA Tissue Sample Requirements: High Quality Requirements Yield High Quality Data