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Bowel cancer study could lead to personalised treatment

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A new genetic study has taken scientists a step closer to being able to offer personalised cancer treatment.

British experts identified faults in DNA that can help doctors tailor therapies for thousands of patients with bowel cancer.

The research is the latest to flag up small groups of genetically similar cancer patients who can benefit from specific treatments.

Such advances are expected to make individually tailored therapies commonplace in the future.

Cancer Research UK scientists from the University of Dundee carried out a genetic analysis of 106 bowel cancer tumour samples searching for faults in a key gene called K-Ras.

Knowing which patients have a faulty K-Ras gene is important because only those without the defect stand to benefit from two new “antibody” cancer drugs. In fact the drugs, cetuximab and panitumumab, might even harm patients with defective K-Ras.

Scientists now believe as many as 33% of bowel cancer patients have a K-Ras defect - around 12,375 people in total, and 3,000 more than had previously been assumed. Patients who fall within this category should not be given the new drugs.

Professor Roland Wolf, director of the Cancer Research UK Molecular Pharmacology Unit at the University of Dundee, said: “These findings may in the future be relevant for selected patients with advanced bowel cancer as doctors will be able to more precisely target these treatments to the patients who will benefit, and avoid treating those who won’t.”

The research is reported in the British Journal of Cancer.

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