Point mutations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene are the most common genetic alterations in human cancers. The nature and location of these mutations can be informative in assessing the importance of putative carcinogenic agents. Potential associations between a given carcinogen and a specific mutation pattern can be substantiated when the exposure history of the patients is known. While the past exposure to environmental risk factors is often difficult to determine, documented occupational exposure to carcinogens presents a unique situation for evaluating this approach. Analysis usually involves working with paraffin-embedded tissues, fixed under conditions suboptimal for genetic analysis and stored for many years, since frozen tissues are not available in sufficient numbers. The particular methodological problems encountered with fixed samples are discussed here, using as illustration an ongoing study of oncogene and tumor suppressor gene mutations in archived bladder tumors of workers exposed to aromatic amines and nonexposed patients.
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