• National Cancer Institute
  • National Human Genome Research Institute

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 is examining a very large number of samples – up to 500 samples for each tumor type.  This will provide 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 are studying 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 will be collected. This will allow 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 will be difficult to collect from patients and may be 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 are selected for study in TCGA. Learn more about the cancers selected for TCGA.  

Donating Tissue to Cancer Research

TCGA is actively developing a network of collaborators who are able to provide samples that are collected retrospectively (tissues that had already been collected and stored) or prospectively (tissues that will be collected in the future).  

Donation of tissue by individuals and patients is an immensely important gift to the research process. In addition to offering to donate tissue to scientific research, you can participate in other important ways. Over the next several years, TCGA will provide a more detailed understanding of cancer than ever before. You can help by bringing the program to the attention of other people in your life, including your doctor. By encouraging doctors to understand the importance of TCGA, 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:

Donating Tissue for Cancer Research: Biospecimens and Biorepositories

Understanding Biospecimen Collection