A new approach to treating cancer could be on the horizon. As research progresses, scientists are learning more and more about different types of cancer. They know that mutations in genes can often drive cancer, and a new effort is focusing on treating cancer based on the mutations that are fueling its growth instead of the organ it originated in.
These studies are known as ‘basket studies’ because patients with different kinds of cancer are grouped together according to the particular gene mutation that is fueling their cancer growth. As an example, one particular patient with a rare white blood cell cancer entered a basket study. The mutation in her cancer was in the BRAF gene, which is a gene that is found in about 50% of melanomas. Chemotherapy and radiation didn’t work on her blood cancer, but after doctors gave her a drug for melanoma, the results were amazing- within a month, her cancer was undetectable!
Without a complex understanding of genes and the mutations that drive different kinds of cancer, it probably would have seemed crazy to consider using a melanoma drug to treat a patient with this type of cancer. Animal models have made a big difference, too- did you know that there is a BRAF mouse model that helps researchers understand melanoma and develop new drugs and treatments for the disease?
Basket studies aren’t guaranteed to work, but there have been some promising results. Out of the 18 patients in this particular patient’s basket study, tumors have stopped growing, shrunk, or completely disappeared in 14 of those patients after receiving the melanoma drug! Read more about basket studies here.