Predicting better cancer treatments

Helen Palmer Oct 23, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Almost half a million cancer patients get chemotherapy in this country every year. Treatments that could be succesful, but often aren’t. And that are toxic to boot. A new genetic test offers some hope for patients that their drugs will work for their particular cancer. From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.

HELEN PALMERR: Many genes go haywire to cause cancer. If you know which ones are most active in a patient’s tumor, you can pick the right drug to target that cancer. Researchers at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences have done just that.

Duke’s Anil Potti says they have profiled hundreds of different tumors to find their unique signatures.

ANIL POTTI:“We’re improving the chances that a particualr patient would respond to a certain type of treatment.

Potti says initial results suggest their test predicts the right treatment 80 percent of the time. Even the test would save cash, he says.

POTTI:“The test would end up being somewhere between $1,000-$2,000. An average lung-cancer patient gets about six CT scans, which are close to $10,000.

Potti says they’re going to enroll breast, lung and ovarian patients in clinical trials. But there are still big questions, says Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society.

LEN LICHTENFELD: Is this going to be the big breakthrough? Possibly it could be. But we really need to see how it translates into outcomes in clinical trials before we can get truly excited about its impact on the care of patients with cancer.

Lichtenfeld says there have been many attempts to pinpoint which therapies work for which cancers. He says he’s always hopeful but cautions it’ll be years before this test’s available.

I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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