The comprehensive identification of mutations contributing to the development of cancer is a priority of large cancer sequencing projects. To date, most studies have scrutinized mutations in coding regions of the genome, but several recent discoveries, including the identification of recurrent somatic mutations in the TERT promoter in multiple cancer types, support the idea that mutations in non-coding regions are also important in tumour development. Furthermore, analysis of whole-genome sequencing data from tumours has elucidated novel mutational patterns and processes etched into cancer genomes. Here, we present an overview of insights gleaned from the analysis of mutations from sequenced cancer genomes. We then review the mechanisms by which non-coding mutations can play a role in cancer. Finally, we discuss recent efforts aimed at identifying non-coding driver mutations, as well as the unique challenges that the analysis of non-coding mutations present in contrast to the identification of driver mutations in coding regions.
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