A large, comprehensive study of the genetics of squamous cell lung cancer, one of the most common forms of lung cancer, could have ramifications for patients with a variety of types of the disease, the authors say.
According to a New York Times article, a 300-author study of this deadly form of cancer showed that many more lives could be saved – or lengthened – if drugs are tailored to match the genetic abnormality of each patient. With that in mind, researchers say, it’s clear that many of the tumors from that particular cancer – and perhaps others – have mutations that could be treated by drugs that are already on the market or can be easily developed.
Dr. Matthew Meyerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the lead author of the study, said that the findings “will change the landscape for squamous cell carcinoma” and perhaps give new hope to patients with that disease. Many believe it could also impact eventually impact patients with other forms of cancer, including rare forms of the disease such as mesothelioma.
Studies such as this one are bound to change the way researchers and doctors view cancer treatment, notes the article. Currently, drugs are tested by giving them to everyone with a particular type of cancer. That no longer makes sense, say the study’s authors. It now makes more sense, they stress, to embark upon a testing program that looks at DNA sequencing and identifies a major genetic abnormality in each patient, then matches a drug that’s designed to attack the mutation in that particular case.
“Unfortunately, what the Cancer Genome Atlas project has revealed is that everyone’s cancer could be very different,” said Dr. William Pao, a lung cancer researcher at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville and an author of the paper. “The field is really moving toward personalized medicine.”
But problems with clinical trials come when cancer patients have to be divided by their genetic mutations, not by the type of cancer they have, the authors stress. That sometimes means there are too few clinical trial candidates within a single location or even several locations. Hence, researchers say they’ll need to cast a “wider net”, forming a consortium within the major cancer clinics. For squamous cell lung cancer in particular, “each center [within the consortium] would direct one or more studies of one mutation and one drug that might home in on the specific mutation,” the article explains. It’s a system that has already worked for another form of cancer, adenocarcinoma. Doctors and researchers hope the same can happen with squamous cell lung cancer and, eventually, other forms of the disease.
“The old way of doing clinical trials where patients are only tied together by the organ where their cancer originated, those days are passing,” adds Dr. Mace Rothenberg, senior vice president of Pfizer oncology, whose company has seen firsthand the positive effect a new slant can have on the cancer population.