Copyright © 2013 Jiajia Chen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
With recent advances in microarray technology, there has been a flourish in genome-scale identification of molecular signatures for cancer. However, the differentially expressed genes obtained by different laboratories are highly divergent. The present discrepancy at gene level indicates a need for a novel strategy to obtain more robust signatures for cancer. In this paper we hypothesize that (1) the expression signatures of different cancer microarray datasets are more similar at pathway level than at gene level; (2) the comparability of the cancer molecular mechanisms of different individuals is related to their genetic similarities. In support of the hypotheses, we summarized theoretical and experimental evidences, and conducted case studies on colorectal and prostate cancer microarray datasets. Based on the above assumption, we propose that reliable cancer signatures should be investigated in the context of biological pathways, within a cohort of genetically homogeneous population. It is hoped that the hypotheses can guide future research in cancer mechanism and signature discovery.