01 June 2010

A ‘completely different approach’ to cancer treatment

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"Up until very recently, all patients with breast cancer were basically given the same therapy. We now clearly know that's not the right way to do things."

Professor Peter Rigby, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, believes that recently the way treatments for cancer are being researched has completely changed.

And this, he thinks, is because of great strides made on how scientists are able to understand the genetic code.

In 2003, the Human Genome Project succeeded in sequencing the human genome to 99.9% accuracy, allowing scientists to "read" human DNA. Since then, researchers have been using this so-called roadmap to find a correlation between certain genomes and cancer.

This means that, in theory at least, cancer could be treated on a molecular level rather than using current therapies - such as chemotherapy or surgery - which damage many healthy cells along with those which are cancerous.

And Professor Paul Workman, director of cancer therapeutics at the institute, agrees "there's no doubt that the new molecular-targeted therapies have much less severe side effects than the old-style cytotoxic (cell-killing) therapies."

For patients with the disease, this could herald a new era for cancer treatment.

"Patients will be treated in a way where hopefully the therapy will be very precisely matched to their tumour," says Professor Rigby.

There are few areas of medical and scientific research with a higher profile than cancer. According to the Sanger Institute, one in three people in the western world develop cancer and one in five die of the disease.

(BBC News)

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