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KRAS Mutation

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Also known as: K-Ras
Formal name: KRAS Mutation Analysis

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

This test detects specific mutations in the KRAS gene in the DNA of cancer cells and tissue. The presence of these mutations may indicate that certain drugs will not be effective in treating the cancer.

KRAS is a short name for the gene v-Ki-ras2 Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog. It is one of a group of genes involved in a pathway called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway. This complex signaling pathway involves numerous components that relay signals from outside of the cell to within the cell to help regulate cell growth, division, survival and death.

In many normal cells, binding of epidermal growth factor (EGF) to its receptor (EGFR) on the surface of the cell is an important signal to cell growth and division. Other signals in the pathway involve a class of proteins called tyrosine kinase (TK) enzymes and a protein produced by the KRAS gene. Normally, the components of the pathway interact in the regulation of cell growth and division and do not individually stimulate cell proliferation.

However, in some cancers, EGFR becomes active even in the absence of EGF, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and division. Drugs that inhibit EGFR or tyrosine kinase enzymes are often helpful for treating such cancers. Some of these cancers, though, have a mutation in the KRAS gene that produces an abnormal K-Ras protein. The abnormal protein is always active and can stimulate cell growth even in the absence of signals from EGFR and TK. In such cancers, drugs that inhibit EGFR or TK will not be effective.

KRAS mutations are found in many different types of cancers but have been most extensively studied in colon cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Approximately 40% of colon cancers and 20% of lung cancers will have KRAS mutations.

There are several different methods of testing for KRAS mutations, but all of them involve evaluating the KRAS gene in tumor tissue.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A tumor tissue sample is obtained through a biopsy procedure or sometimes collected during a surgery. The tumor tissue is typically evaluated by a pathologist prior to testing.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.