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Using Genetic Testing To Guide Mesothelioma Treatment

Man in laboratoryLast week, mesothelioma nurse, Lisa Hyde-Barrett reported on “super-responders” –  patients who have exceptional results in clinical trials. Researchers are using genome sequencing on these patients in hopes of finding a common genetic mutation that may result in additional patients having the same positive responses to the novel treatments. But genetic testing is not limited to clinical trials. Now, it is becoming important for oncologists to be aware of the genetic makeup of mesothelioma patients to personalize their treatments.

Doctors and researchers have long touted the benefits of personalized medicine – establishing a treatment plan based on a patient’s specific disease characteristics and needs – for mesothelioma patients. Targeted treatment optimizes the potential for success of the treatment, limits experimental treatments, and provides the patient with the assurance that his physician is focusing on his unique needs.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, caused by past asbestos exposure, that is resistant to many anti-cancer drugs. By looking at biomarkers within a patient’s cancer cells, a drug designed to fight that specific mutation may be identified that is optimal.

Researchers across the world have focused their efforts on developing targeted cancer treatments that center on getting to the specific gene or biomarker responsible for a particular cancer. In fact, an alphabet soup of biomarkers, including Abcc10, VEGF, BAP1, EGFR, and HER2, that could indicate mesothelioma, have been used to develop cancer treatments to fight the deadly disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is doing its part in helping to guide medical professionals towards personalized medicine. In the last few years, the FDA has approved a variety of personalized treatments “that signal a new era of medical product development have entered the market or come on the horizon.”

Specifically, the FDA has approved four cancer drugs for use in patients whose tumors have specific genetic characteristics, including crizotinib (Xalkori) along with an ALK FISH probe companion diagnostic to treat non-small cell lung cancer patients who express the ALK gene, and the agency granted priority status to the anti-cancer compound Gilotrif (afatinib) for non-small cell lung cancer patients whose tumors express specific types of EGFR gene mutations.

In a recent study from Moffitt Cancer Center, researchers developed a process to analyze genes in lung cancers so that physicians could “better select personalized treatment options for patients.” According to the study, patients who had mutations were then given treatments targeted for their specific mutation.

“Precision medicine is the future of cancer care,” said Eric B. Haura, M.D., director of Moffitt’s Lung Cancer Center of Excellence. “We’d like to extend this [study] further to examine for driver genes in other types of lung cancer, such as squamous cell lung cancer.”

Several renown mesothelioma researchers, including Dr. Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and Dr. Harvey I. Pass of NYU Langone Medical Center, just identified four specific genes that may be involved in mesothelioma development that could lead to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the terminal cancer.

The research points to new targeted therapies, or treatments, that use drugs to attack cancer cells and leaves healthy cells untouched. A better understanding of the genetic alterations underlying the disease, according to the researchers, may also lead to more effective diagnosis and more accurate prognosis.

Mesothelioma is an incurable, asbestos-caused cancer of the membranes that surround many of the body’s vital organs. The most common form, as many as eighty percent of all diagnoses, is pleural mesothelioma, where the cancer attacks the pleural tissue surrounding the lung. The cancer is highly aggressive and is resistant to many cancer treatments making it a difficult disease to treat effectively. Thus a new, effective treatment for the cancer is vital for improving survival rates for patients.

To find out if there are any targeted treatments available for your specific mesothelioma, discuss your treatment options with your doctor.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 7 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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