Cancer Is Aggressive; How Genetic Mapping Can Help Knock It Down

Wouldn’t it be grand if the fears of being diagnosed with a relentless and aggressive cancer can finally be put to rest due to a more precise treatment that is individualized to a given patient’s tumor?

Today there’s hope that it can be. What health experts today are calling “precision” or “personalized medicine” is turning some forms of cancer into a much more combatable disease than previously thought. In Atlanta, this approach is being practiced at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. It allows doctors to prescribe treatments specifically tailored to each patient, based on genetic information and other unique factors.

“Molecular testing in cancer is performed on tissue taken during a tumor biopsy,” explained Dr. Fadlo Khuri, deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute. “Several tests can be done to reveal the genetic makeup of the mutation present in the cells of a particular cancer, such as non-small cell lung cancer. This genetic mapping, or DNA sequencing, is referred to as genomics.”

The testing reveals gene mutations that are more susceptible to certain medicines, enabling a physician to develop individualized treatments designed to target those specific altered or mutated genes.

Norman Pease of Atlanta, who is being treated for stage 4 lung cancer at Winship, was diagnosed in February 2012 with non-small cell lung cancer, more specifically with adenocarcinoma. From the first diagnosis until Dec. 2013, the treatment therapies he was given achieved limited success; in fact they were continuing to increase in size.

He was, he said, “losing hope.”

In December 2013, Pease agreed to participate in a clinical trial offered through Winship utilizing a new therapy that specifically targeted a mutation present in his cancer cells. He underwent a biopsy to check whether his tumor harbored the specific mutation being targeted in the clinical trial. Since being on the research study, his tumors have decreased in size significantly, and are barely visible on the CT scans.

“I feel great, there are minimal to no side effects, and the best part is it is extending my life until a more aggressive treatment becomes available,” he said.

Winship’s Dr. Khuri said, “Many centers, like Winship, do reflex testing, which automatically sends a patient’s sample for a molecular screening panel to test for mutations. Certain gene mutations are known to drive cancer growth, cause drug resistance or susceptibility, or are currently under investigation as therapeutic targets in clinical trials, so the results of those tests can determine the type of treatment a patient receives.”

Winship’s precision medicine clinical trials also target cancers of the breast, colon, thyroid and certain other cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and melanoma. In addition, clinician-researchers are exploring immunotherapy, a promising new treatment that uses the immune system to fight cancer and other diseases.


Original article:  http://www.ajc.com/news/news/health-med-fit-science/cancer-aggressive-how-genetic-mapping-can-help-kno/nmSMy/

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