Targeted cancer therapies that target tumors based on their individual genetic characteristics rather than their overall category significantly improve survival compared to traditional methods, according to the largest study to date published yesterday in the United States.
For years, researchers have multiplied the sequencing of tumors, especially those resistant to standard treatments, to find genetic mutations in a particular patient and adapt the treatments accordingly.
These targeted treatments are considered very promising but whether they are more effective has yet to be statistically confirmed. This is what a team of researchers in Texas pledged to do in 2007 with their study called “Impact.”
The researchers recruited 3,743 patients treated at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas from 2007 to 2013.
All participants had cancer in last stage, especially breast, lung or gastrointestinal cancers. Some had received up to 16 treatments, while 711 were treated with a drug adapted to a genetic mutation identified in the cancer cells.
On the other hand, the second group of 596 patients received a standard protocol, mainly because no genetically adapted treatment was available for their cases.
Targeted cancer therapies have proven successful and make scientists be optimistic about the future cancer treatments
After three years, 15% of those who received specific molecular therapies were still alive, compared to 7% in the group of patients who received only the traditional treatment. After 10 years, 6% of the patients in the target group were alive, compared to 1% in the other group.
“Before precision medicine, patients were treated according to the type of cancer they had. But a breast cancer patient may have cancer cells that are genetically more similar to lung cancer than to other breast cancer case. If you just treat cancer by location, all these genetic differences within cancer cells are left out,” the scientists concluded.
This targeted cancer therapies, however, is not a miracle treatment. On average, targeted therapies increased patient survival time by nine months compared to 7.3 months for routine treatments. But the method is improving year after year.
“At first, we could only work on one or two genes,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Apostolia Tsimberidou. Today, hundreds of mutations can be detected.
“Ideally, in the future, genetic testing of tumors and DNA testing will become the norm at the time of diagnosis, which should help patients from the outset, especially in difficult cancers,” the researcher concluded.