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Circulating proteins can reveal key pathways to cancer and identify therapeutic targets for cancer prevention. We investigate 2,074 circulating proteins and risk of nine common cancers (bladder, breast, endometrium, head and neck, lung, ovary, pancreas, kidney, and malignant non-melanoma) using cis protein Mendelian randomisation and colocalization. We conduct additional analyses to identify adverse side-effects of altering risk proteins and map cancer risk proteins to drug targets. Here we find 40 proteins associated with common cancers, such as PLAUR and risk of breast cancer [odds ratio per standard deviation increment: 2.27, 1.88-2.74], and with high-mortality cancers, such as CTRB1 and pancreatic cancer [0.79, 0.73-0.85]. We also identify potential adverse effects of protein-altering interventions to reduce cancer risk, such as hypertension. Additionally, we report 18 proteins associated with cancer risk that map to existing drugs and 15 that are not currently under clinical investigation. In sum, we identify protein-cancer links that improve our understanding of cancer aetiology. We also demonstrate that the wider consequence of any protein-altering intervention on well-being and morbidity is required to interpret any utility of proteins as potential future targets for therapeutic prevention.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Humans, Neoplasms, Female, Risk Factors, Mendelian Randomization Analysis, Biomarkers, Tumor, Male, Blood Proteins