Treating One Patient at a Time

Cancer therapies customize treatments for individual patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The basic biology of cancer cells varies from person to person, and scientists are in the process of developing ways to treat the disease of individual patients.

Researchers at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center have begun treating a person's specific cancer using what are called targeted therapies. This emerging frontier, an approach known as personalized medicine, delivers not only better treatment results, but also longer survival.

"Ask your oncologist to 'personalize' your cancer treatment."

Targeted therapies attack what is believed to be keeping cancer cells alive and growing. Targets may include genes or proteins in the tumor itself or the surrounding tissue.

Not all cancers have the same targets, and targeted therapy may focus on the genes, proteins and/or other factors involved in an individual's cancer.

For this study, researchers examined the tumors of 1,144 patients with advanced cancer. Scientists identified the specific changes in the genes that were causing the tumors to live and grow - changes called gene mutations.

Patients received therapies that attacked the specific gene mutation involved in their disease.

Those who received targeted therapy lived an average of four months longer than patients who did not receive this level of specific treatment. Of those who received targeted therapy, 27 percent of patients had a slowing or stopping of cancer growth, compared to only 5 percent of patients receiving standard treatments.

This approach should eventually be used for every cancer patient, says lead author Apostalia-Maria Tsimberidou, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"We continue to learn more about personalized drugs that attack specific cancer cells," said Russell Ricci, M.D., Chairman, dailyRx Medical Advisory Board. "Personalized medicine will offer more and more individual patients important opportunities to enhance both treatment and survival."

Scientists do not understand the genetic mutations involved in all cancers, so this type of treatment is not yet available to all patients.

Findings from this study were reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2011 annual meeting.

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Review Date: 
June 5, 2011
Last Updated:
June 8, 2011