While cancer treatments continue to become more effective, physicians are still, all too often, faced with cases where a tumor fails to respond to any methods. Researchers are now optimistic about the possibility of genetic profiling as a way to pinpoint vulnerable treatment options in an otherwise stubborn tumor.
Oncologist Michael Pishvaian of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center compares locating the source of a tumor’s growth to “looking for a needle in a haystack.” The problem is that a cancer cell may hold hundreds of abnormally behaving genes, but it’s likely that only a few of them are actually fueling the tumor.
Dr. Pishvaian has first-hand experience with tumor profiling. In June 2013, he was treating a patient named Jen Morey for colon cancer using a conventional chemotherapy protocol. Unfortunately, after a couple of months the tumor was still growing at a rapid rate.
Faced with this roadblock, Dr. Pishvaian ordered a tumor profile test in an attempt to discover why treatment wasn’t working. He was astonished when the results indicated a genetic mutation found almost exclusively in breast cancer.
Morey began undergoing treatment with a drug commonly used to target breast cancer gene mutations. Her condition quickly stabilized, and the new protocol was easier to tolerate because it attacks only cancer cells. A CT scan in December showed that the tumor has remained stable, and Morey was able to return to her critical-care nursing job in late January.
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