Cancer breakthrough: ‘New pathway’ to treatment increases patient’s ‘chances of survival’

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The discovery could boost the number of cancer patients who are successfully treated for the life-threatening illness. The new pathway involves a protein called TSPAN6, which is often inactive in bowel cancer patients and can make the drugs used for treatment less effective. This is the case if cancer patients have a mutation in a gene called RAS, which stops anti-EGFR inhibitors from working.

But researchers have found that if this pathway is active in a patient’s cancer then the drugs will work.

The study was led by a team of scientists at the University of Birmingham.

It involved the study of 184 tumour samples and medical records of bowel cancer patients participating in the COIN trial, which looks at two alternatives to this standard treatment.

One alternative testing uses a new drug, cetuximab, which is given in addition to standard chemotherapy.

It is said that the drug may help people with bowel cancer to live longer.

The other option is giving the standard chemotherapy over shorter periods with breaks in between.

This option is reported to have improved patients’ quality of life.

As well as this, the scientists led research carried out in mice, cell cultures, and a laboratory model for pre-malignant colorectal cancer.

Co-senior author Andrew Beggs, Professor of Cancer Genetics and Surgery at the University of Birmingham, explained: “About 60 percent of bowel cancers are sensitive to drugs called anti-EGFR inhibitors which work by blocking a key pathway in these cancers.

“However, despite this, in cancers that should be sensitive to them, these drugs only work in patients about 50 percent of the time.”

Co-senior author Dr Fedor Berditchevski, also of the University of Birmingham, added: “Scientists have previously found that if bowel cancer patients have a mutation in a gene called RAS, the anti-EGFR inhibitors will not work.”

First author Dr Regina Andrijes, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Birmingham, concluded: “This is the first time a tetraspanin protein has been shown to be directly involved with bowel cancer.

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“Our research findings show that this new pathway could act as a biomarker for treatment with anti-EGFR drugs in bowel cancer, increasing a patient’s chance of survival and the number of patients who could benefit from these drugs who previously would not have.”

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, affects the large bowel, made up of the colon and rectum.

It is the fourth most common cancer in Britain, with more than 42,000 people diagnosed in the UK every year.

It is the second most deadly cancer, with 16,000 people dying in the UK every year.

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