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The key to successfully treating cancer is personalized therapies

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Posted September 8, 2016

The key to successfully treating cancer is knowing its exact genetic causes. That is something scientists are continuously working for decades. However, sometimes they find something really surprising. For example, an international research team found that oesophageal cancer features multiple genetic changes or mutations.

Obesity, smoking and reflux (heartburn) increase the chance of getting oesophageal cancer. Pictured: translocation of chromosomes, a mechanism that causes some cancers. Image credit: NIH via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Obesity, smoking and reflux (heartburn) increase the chance of getting oesophageal cancer. Pictured: translocation of chromosomes, a mechanism that causes some cancers. Image credit: NIH via Wikimedia, Public Domain

This is extremely important, because now scientists know that the key to successful cancer treatment is a combination of treatments, each taking care of a specific genetic cause. Oesophageal cancer, according to this new study, has three distinct genetic sub-groups. This cancer is known to be the sixth most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, which means that the world is in need of better diagnostic techniques, as well as more innovative treatments. One of the ways of achieving it, could be therapies tailored specifically to each patient, taking into account his DNA analysis.

Scientists say that better understanding about genetic causes of cancer would help bringing treatment to the right patient on the right time. Professor Andrew Barbour, a member of the research team, said: “By using a combination of treatments oncologists could target multiple drivers of the disease increasing the chance of making a difference. This could improve survival rates and reduce the stress and cost of putting patients through treatments that are not going to work”. Scientists performed whole genome sequencing to see what mutations contribute to the development of the cancer.

Research revealed there are three sub-groups of oesophageal cancer cases. In the first one, which accounts to 18% of the cancer cases, DNA is extensively scarred and cells cannot repair damage anymore. These patients should receive certain types of chemotherapy. In the second sub-group, which represents around 50%, there is a high rate of genetic mutations. In this case, patients should be treated with immunotherapy. Finally, there is a third sub-group, which still requires a lot of researching in order to understand it better.

Scientists argue that the biggest achievement of this study is a proof that personal cancer treatments are not only possible, but also necessary. Having in mind, that current technology brought down the cost of DNA sequencing of oesophageal cancer patients to about the level of a PET scan, such tailored treatments should be wide-spread fairly soon.

Source: uq.edu.au

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