French doctors said they had used gene testing to help women with advanced breast cancer get
access to clinical trials that may offer a better chance of treating their
The study, the biggest of
its kind, improves the chances of getting drugs that, like a sniper's rifle,
aim at a specific type of tumour, they said.
Researchers led by Fabrice
Andre, a professor at the Gustave Roussy Institute in Paris, unravelled the DNA
of cancer cells found in more than 407 women whose breast cancer had spread
dangerously to other tissues.
The goal was to pinpoint
genes linked with specific types of tumour, and see if these could be matched
to new, experimental drugs that were already in the test pipeline.
Previous work has looked at
only part of the genetic code of cancer cells – this one, though, was a trawl
across the genome, aimed at identifying as many suspect genes as possible.
The probe found that nearly
half of the patients – 46% – did have tumours whose genetic profile offered a
potential target for drugs.
Of these, 43 were then
enrolled in clinical trials for new drugs corresponding to this profile.
Read: Breast cancer treatment side effects last for years
Thirteen of them responded
"Until now, genetic
testing has only analysed a limited number of genes to select which targeted
drugs are suitable for individual patients and many treatment opportunities may
be missed," explained Andre.
"For the first time,
we have shown that scanning the whole genome can identify both frequent and
rare genomic alterations and can be done in clinical practice with large
numbers of women."
The study is reported in a
specialist journal, The Lancet Oncology.
Rare type of genetic profile
Despite the success of the
gene trawl, the choice of drugs remains meagre for many of the rarer types of
39% of the
women had a rare type of genetic profile in their cancer, for which in most
cases no treatments – either licensed or in trials – existed.
New treatment for breast cancer
Breast cancer treatment may lead to hip fracture