Personalized medicine may brighten outlook on mesothelioma research and treatment
Individuals who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma share certain things in common. Asbestos exposure was a likely cause of your condition. Respiratory difficulties are a prominent problem. If you were not aware that you were developing the disease until its symptoms manifested, you were probably diagnosed while the cancer was in its advanced stages.
With all these similarities, you would expect that all patients with your illness would respond the same way to the same treatments. Unfortunately, this is not true. Not all mesothelioma patients react equally to chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. One of the most important reasons for this is that the diseased tissues in patients may be genetically different.
At Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman, we keep track of the most promising advances in the medical field. One active area of scientific research, known as personalized medicine, is giving scientists hope that they can treat patients more effectively.
Personalized medicine is shifting the focus in cancer
Currently, most patients (and even some medical professionals) think of cancer in terms of the organ or tissue from which it originates. For example, people are familiar with prostate cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer and so on. They also think of leukemia as affecting the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow.
However, Edward Benz, Jr., M.D., the president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discussed new ways of thinking about malignant diseases in a blog post on the website for Stand Up To Cancer, an advocacy group that supports basic research. He noted that in recent years, scientists started understanding that tumors in individual patients, even when they are the same type of cancer, may have important differences that can impact the success of treatment.
For example, women who have breast cancer have diseased cells that may be classified according to the presence or absence of a cell receptor that responds to hormones and hormonal treatments.
Additionally, women can have certain mutations in specific genes that can make them more likely to develop breast cancer or other malignancies. Knowledge of these mutations can help doctors determine whether certain women need to be monitored more closely.
These approaches are part of what is known as personalized medicine, in which treatments can be tailored to patients at the individual level rather than with sweeping, broad strokes.
How can mesothelioma patients benefit from personalized medicine?
The reason why personalized medicine can be valuable for people with mesothelioma is that it can help doctors determine which therapeutic approaches may be the most appropriate for different patients.
For example, one team of scientists from around the U.S. released a study in 2004, which demonstrated how a panel of 27 genes helped doctors predict survival time among mesothelioma patients who underwent surgery.
By 2009, researchers from this team refined this approach further by predicting survival among surgical patients with the help of a four-gene expression ratio test.
“Patients whose gene ratio test results predict a good prognosis after surgery may more confidently select the treatment option that includes surgery,” Raphael Bueno, M.D., and his colleagues wrote in their study.
Knowing who to operate on could be important because such procedures are invasive and, if approached haphazardly, can actually hurt patients.
The search continues
While personalized medicine sounds promising for mesothelioma patients, this scientific advance is still relatively young.
“For all its promise, the field of cancer genomics is less than a decade old. The progress in mapping out cancer’s genetic variety, though substantial, is still at a relatively early stage,” Benz wrote in his blog. “As we fill in the map and develop a new taxonomy for cancer – a new system for distinguishing tumor types and subtypes – the advances promise to be enormous. But we are still learning how to use these powerful new tools. Much remains to be done.”
And we, along with our clients, can’t wait to see what comes next.