There is no doubt that cancer is a top concern of both the average person and the medical community. With numerous types of cancer including breast cancer and head and neck cancers and total cases reaching into the millions, public health messages have become ever more focused on prevention and researchers race to find more effective treatments and the elusive cure.
In 2018, 1,735,350 new cancer cases and 609,640 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States
The combined cancer death rate dropped continuously from 1991 to 2015 by a total of 26%
While cancer is common, the dropping death rate offers hope that we are getting better at fighting it. Recent research published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery provides a glimpse at the new frontier of cancer-fighting, genetics.
Deeper Genetic Testing
UNC School of Medicine student Wesley Stepp, Ph.D., led the recent research, which explored the theory that digging deeper into the genetic code of head and neck cancer could provide a more precise roadmap on how to treat these types of cancers. This clearer roadmap could lead to more personalized treatments and better outcomes.
Testing tumors like these is nothing new, but Stepp hypothesized that there might be more to it.
In Stepp’s study, tumors were tested using a method that looks at not just the genes, but also gene expressions. For example, the single gene linked with certain breast cancers was found to have numerous genetic expressions. In the past, treatment has been based on very broad categories around a particular gene. Looking closer at the gene expressions actually breaks those broader groups into much smaller groups, making more targeted treatment possible.
Once the gene expressions had been detailed, Stepp used the information to determine tumor aggressiveness.
“Ultimately, we’d like to be able to say which treatment modality a patient will best respond to and the likelihood of recurrence,” Stepp said. “We’re trying to individualize the treatment of head and neck cancers. That’s the big picture.”
While the initial study group was small, at just 21 patients, a larger study is in the works. Stepp, who pursued medicine after being reminded that there is a human side to every disease, said: “The home run will be when we can prove this test shows what sort of treatment a patient needs to have the best shot at remission or of not having cancer anymore.”
The results of this study are not only promising for more personalized and effective head and neck cancer treatments, but also the possibilities for treating cancers of all types in the future. The more information medical professionals have to fight cancer, the better the outcome for the patient. We are moving closer to a cure, and that is good news for everyone.
Learn more about the study on the UNC Health Care news site here.
Find ways to lower your cancer risk through diet, exercise and other lifestyle strategies here.