January 18th, 2019

To Your Health: Advances in treating cancer soaring

By Gillian Slade on December 24, 2018.

In the news recently there has been coverage of a little boy in Alberta who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a few years ago and is finally making huge strides thanks to treatment targeting a specific gene.

Surgery and chemotherapy did not seem to be improving things until a specific gene for the cancer was identified. He was subsequently able to join a clinical trial in Seattle that provides treatment targeted at that specific gene. In a recent radio interview his mother talked of him now having more energy and even an appetite again. Targeting the treatment for that gene has also meant the rest of his body has not been negatively impacted by the treatment.

Last week the University of British Columbia released information about a study that links a specific chromosome to radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis.

Researcher Christina Haston, associate professor of medical physics and UBC’s Okanagan campus, has been able to determine that genes on a specific chromosome may be the reason why thoracic radiotherapy leads to lung injury in some patients with lung cancer.

Haston’s study found that genetic differences can indicate whether or not radiotherapy my result in lung injury.

“Currently, 50 per cent of cancer patients in Canada receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment course,” said Haston in a press release. “In addition to effects on the tumour, up to 30 per cent of these patients develop side effects to this treatment, or injuries to non-tumour tissue.”

Pulmonary fibrosis is progressive and makes it difficult for patients to breathe and process oxygen. In some cases pulmonary fibrosis developed after radiation and others after taking the cancer medication Bleomycin.

This study looked at susceptibility to pulmonary fibrosis, on mice in a laboratory, after radiation and also after receiving Bleomycin. It was found that the mice with a replaced Chromosome 6 were protected from pulmonary fibrosis after both radiation and Bleomycin.

“The recent findings by our lab have specifically identified these genetic differences to reside in Chromosome 6,” said Haston who feels the results may open the door to individualized cancer treatment based on the patient’s genetic makeup.

This could result in treatments with fewer side effects and a larger dose to the tumour. That in turn may result in more effective treatments and long-term beneficial results in beating cancer, said the press release.

Advances in treating cancer have soared in the last few decades and research like this at UBC has the potential to be a game changer.

Here’s to researchers and improved treatments for cancer and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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