When a doctor diagnoses cancer, the labels for the disease are awfully broad, a fact that hinders treatment.
Cancer, fundamentally, is a disease marked by specific changes in the genetic code of a person's cancerous cells. So one case of lung cancer that appears clinically to be just like another may be quite different at a molecular level.
The subtle genetic changes in tumor cells can determine which drug regimen has a chance at working and which might be a non-starter. But the use of such markers in clinical practice has a long way to go for some cancers.
Now, researchers, have shown progress with the technique in a study of a few hundred patients with advanced lung cancer. The study, discussed at a meeting of the American American Association for Cancer Research over the weekend, tested whether matching patients whose tumors had specific genetic fingerprints with four different drug regimens would improve care.
After about two months, the researchers looked at the progress of treatment and rejiggered the approach to favor regimens that were working for particular genetic patterns. The results were encouraging, though inadequate to bring about an immediate change in clinical practice.
For starters, there are shortcomings in the molecular fingerprints, or biomarkers, that would make the technique valuable. "This is a first step to find biomarkers that may help supplant existing toxic therapies and to find the right population for a particular drug," said Edward S. Kim, a cancer specialist at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who led the study, according to the Wall Street Journal.
For a detailed discussion of the study and its implications for personalized lung cancer therapy, check out this AACR video of the University of Colorado's Dr. Paul A. Bunn, Jr.