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The cancer revolution: Personalised treatment that’s ‘six times better’ than traditional methods at beating the disease

  • The revolutionary approach tailors treatment to each cancer patient

  • Experts have hailed the ‘personalised medicine’ as a huge breakthrough

  • Research will show how the technique increases chances of survival


A revolutionary approach to cancer which tailors treatment to each patient is six times as effective as traditional methods, a landmark study has found.
Experts have hailed the so-called ‘personalised medicine‘ as the biggest breakthrough since chemotherapy.
The technique sees a patient’s tumour genetically tested as soon as they are diagnosed. This allows doctors to determine whether the cancer is aggressive, whether chemotherapy is necessary and exactly which drugs are needed.
Research involving 13,203 patients, to be unveiled at the world’s largest cancer conference next week, will show the technique drastically increases chances of survival and reduces the risk of the disease spreading and returning.
The California University study found personalised treatment was six times as effective at shrinking tumours as a broad-brush approach – and patients lived twice as long before the cancer grew back, if it returned at all.
Next week, scientists from Cambridge and University College London will announce a major trial of how the method could help breast cancer sufferers. If successful, it is estimated that 7,000 women a year could be spared chemotherapy.
Currently, most patients undergo a similar pattern of treatment, based on their type of cancer and how far it has spread. Most have surgery to remove tumours, followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy or other drugs.
But experts fear this ‘one size fits all’ approach means thousands of patients receive unnecessary treatment and miss out on drugs that could be more successful.

In personalised medicine, genetic analysis of a tumour sample, analysis of a tumour sample, taken straight after diagnosis, gives details of whether it is aggressive and which treatments will work.

Patients are then given drugs based on the tumour’s genetic code, rather than just their type of cancer. It has led to those with prostate cancer, for example, being successfully treated with pills more commonly used on breast and ovarian forms of the disease.

Personalised medicine is increasingly used in the US. Now British experts are calling for it to be offered routinely on the NHS.

Professor Johann de Bono, of London’s Institute of Cancer Research, said: ‘There can be major benefits for patients. We are very excited about it … It’s no longer just thinking about whether the cancer has come from the breast or the bowel or the lung.

‘There’s more to it … Breast cancer is 20 different diseases for example.’

Rowena Sharpe of Cancer Research UK added: ‘Personalised medicine is a very different way of treating patients. It’s the most exciting thing since chemotherapy.’ Professor Roy Herbst, head of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Centre, said: ‘This is about finding the right key for the lock, finding out what it is that is driving the tumour, what makes it tick.

‘At the moment it is informed guesswork, so treatment often doesn’t work for large numbers of patients. This is about targeting treatment so it’s more powerful, while reducing the toxicity so there are fewer side effects.’

On Monday, researcher Dr Maria Schwaederle will present findings of the study – the largest so far into the effectiveness of personalised medicine – at the American Society for Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.
Her team looked at 341 trials of personalised medicine for all types of cancer in the US and found it successfully eradicated tumours in an average of 31 per cent of patients.
This compared with just 5 per cent who underwent a broad-brush course of surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy and drugs.
They found tumours took twice as long to grow back after personal medicine.
Patients lived for an average of six months ‘disease free’ – and many survived far longer – compared with three months following standard treatment.
Later this summer, the team of British researchers will launch a major trial to assess whether personalised medicine should be routinely used in breast cancer. They aim to recruit up to 4,500 women and the findings will be published after 2020.
UCL’s Dr Robert Stein estimated the technique could eventually spare 7,000 women from chemotherapy a year, saving the NHS £17million annually. He said: ‘It will be a significant step forward. In every area of cancer treatment we have largely functioned on a ‘one size fits all’ basis, because we didn’t have tools to do any better.’
Although UK hospitals have the necessary technology, doctors are wary of the expense as the genetic tests cost £2,000 per patient.