ASCO Annual Meeting: Tailoring Treatment Through Precision Medicine

2016 ASCO Annual Meeting: Collective Wisdom #ASCO16
June 4, 2016
Lindsay Dudbridge, ASCO staff

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting is here! From June 3 to June 7, more than 30,000 oncology professionals from around the world will meet to discuss the latest research in state-of-the-art treatments, new therapies, and patient care.

The theme for this year’s meeting is Collective Wisdom: The Future of Patient-Centered Care and Research. According to ASCO President Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, “the patient is at the center of a very complex system trying to assist them through their journey of cancer care. I selected the theme of collective wisdom to represent the importance of the multimodality care that is necessary for our patients.”

When it comes to patient-centered care, precision medicine is an exciting and evolving approach to cancer treatment. Precision medicine may also be called personalized medicine. In this approach, doctors look at a person’s genetic makeup or look for specific genetic changes within a tumor. By using this information, doctors hope to find prevention and treatment strategies that are individualized and more effective.

Watch the video below to learn more about the basics of how looking for specific gene changes in a tumor can guide treatment:

Today’s highlighted research sheds light on some of the latest advances in precision medicine:

  • Matching treatment to tumor genetics increases patients’ options

  • Advancing breast cancer research: Asking patients for help

  • A less invasive way to identify tumor genetics

Matching treatment to tumor genetics increases patients’ options ”share

Early results from an ongoing study called MyPathway suggest that identifying specific genetic changes in a tumor may add to patients’ treatment options in the future. The 129 patients participating in this study have all had testing to find genetic changes to specific pathways in the tumor cells. A tumor can use changes in these pathways to grow. Then, patients received drugs that targeted these pathways, called targeted therapies.

Researchers found that 29 patients with 12 different types of cancer had the disease stop growing or shrink with treatment. Out of these patients, 14 had the disease worsen within 3 to 14 months. And, 15 have not had the disease worsen in more than 3 months, with some not having the disease worsen for more than 11 months. Most notably, researchers found that treatments targeting the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) may work for colorectal, bladder, and biliary cancers. HER2 is most commonly associated with guiding treatment for breast and stomach cancer. It is a specialized protein found in abnormally high levels on the surface of some cancer cells that drives their growth.

What does this mean? Matching treatments to a tumor’s specific genetic changes holds a lot of promise for the future of cancer treatment. But, how well a treatment works varies among patients, even among those who have tumors with the same genetic change. Researchers don’t yet know all the factors that contribute to these differences, and more research is needed on this topic.

“With genomic testing of tumors becoming increasingly available, studies such as ours will help more patients benefit from precision medicine approaches. Although it is still early to draw conclusions, our findings suggest that, for example, HER2-targeted therapy could be expanded beyond the current indications of HER2-positive breast and gastric cancers.”

—lead study author John D. Hainsworth, MD, Sarah Cannon Research Institute, Nashville, TN

Advancing breast cancer research: Asking patients for help ”share

An innovative research approach that began in October 2015 may help speed advances in metastatic breast cancer. As part of this project, researchers joined with patients and patient advocates to create the online Metastatic Breast Cancer Project (MBCproject). The website allows patients with metastatic breast cancer from across the country to join this study.

Before joining, patients are asked to answer questions about the cancer and the treatment they have received. Then, with each patient’s permission, researchers are given access to each patient’s medical records and any stored tumor samples. Patients also use an at-home collection kit to provide a saliva sample for testing. So far, more than 2,000 patients have joined this study.

What does this mean? This study highlights the possibilities that arise for advancing research when patients and researchers are able to collaborate. By working together, the hope is that researchers will be able to gather more information about metastatic breast cancer that can lead to new treatments for patients.

“With this new approach we hope to engage patients to directly participate in research, regardless of where they live, and contribute to the effort to improve outcomes for all people with advanced breast cancer. If patients are willing to share their samples, their stories, and their data with the MBCproject, it’s our responsibility to take the data we collect and generate and share it openly with the research community to accelerate research.”

—lead study author Nikhil Wagle, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, Boston, MA

A less invasive way to identify tumor genetics ”share

Researchers have found that genetic changes normally found through a biopsy can also be detected in a blood sample. A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tumor tissue for diagnosis. For some cancers, doctors use biopsy samples to find out if a tumor has certain genetic mutations that can be targeted by available cancer drugs.

Tumor cells shed small pieces of genetic material or DNA into the blood. This is called circulating tumor DNA. In this study, researchers used a procedure called liquid biopsy to take blood samples from more than 15,000 patients with 50 different types of cancer. Then, they compared the information from these blood samples with information from tumor biopsy samples. Researchers found that 94% to 100% of the time, the genetic changes detected in the blood samples were also seen in the tumor tissue.

What does this mean? Liquid biopsy is a simple blood draw and is much less invasive than a biopsy, which may require surgery. The ease of this procedure means that it could be used periodically to learn if the cancer is worsening or if the treatment is working.

“These findings suggest that a liquid biopsy can be a highly informative, minimally-invasive alternative when a tissue biopsy is insufficient for genotyping or cannot be obtained safely. Moreover, this test provides an unparalleled opportunity to monitor changes in the cancer as it evolves over time, which can be critical when patients and physicians are discussing treatment options for continued tumor control.”

—study presenter Philip Mack, PhD, University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sacramento, CA

Follow the Meeting

You can keep up with the news coming from the ASCO Annual Meeting by following Cancer.Net on Facebook and Twitter. Or visit the Cancer.Net Blog every day for more reports from Chicago.

Like what you’ve read here at Cancer.Net? Sign up for the monthly Inside Cancer.Net e-newsletter and stay informed about the latest in cancer research and news. 

Share your thoughts on this blog post on Cancer.Net's Facebook and Twitter.