Cancer cells have diverse biological capabilities that are conferred by numerous genetic aberrations and epigenetic modifications. Today's powerful technologies are enabling these changes to the genome to be catalogued in detail. Tomorrow is likely to bring a complete atlas of the reversible and irreversible alterations that occur in individual cancers. The challenge now is to work out which molecular abnormalities contribute to cancer and which are simply 'noise' at the genomic and epigenomic levels. Distinguishing between these will aid in understanding how the aberrations in a cancer cell collaborate to drive pathophysiology. Past successes in converting information from genomic discoveries into clinical tools provide valuable lessons to guide the translation of emerging insights from the genome into clinical end points that can affect the practice of cancer medicine.
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