Researchers are making important discoveries regarding the causes of specific cancers and are finding dramatically different ways to fight the disease that plagues so many.
Cancer has historically been treated based on the organ is comes from.
New studies show that rather than base treatment on the organ, treatment should target specific mutations. Mutations are mistakes in the genes that arise in tumors.
Researchers recognize that there are certain mutations that can be found across multiple disease types.
Perhaps it may be more beneficial to think of cancer as disease harboring mutation A or B rather than lung cancers or colon cancers.
These new treatments can be extremely effective in ways that are previously unprecedented.
For example, currently chemotherapy has a response rate of around 30% in lung cancers while therapies which target certain mutations in lung cancer see many more benefits and more tumor shrinkage.
This is the idea of precision medicine, rather than treating all patients the same.
Experts are not implying that the organ in which the cancer arises has no important, but instead that there may be a combination of understanding the genetics in the cancers that are treated while simultaneously understanding the effect of the organ where they come from.
Clinical trials used to test these theories are different from usual clinical trials.
Most clinical trials have a required specific disease type, therefore all the patients have one type of cancer. These new clinical trials are called “basket studies”, which allow patients from any type of cancer to participate, as long as they have a mutation in their tumor that researchers believe would benefit from the drug being tested.
In addition, everyone in the trials gets the drug, there are no placebos. The researchers know exactly what the patients are receiving which allowed them to discern what percentage of patients have significant shrinkage of their tumor.
If half of the patients or more have shrinkage of their tumor, there is no question that the treatment is better than the current established standard of care.