New system classifying cancers by molecular structure shows promise

From SFGate:

New cancer classification system shows promise as lifesaver
Victoria Colliver
(Thursday, August 7, 2014)

Classifying cancer tumors by their molecular structure rather than the tissue or organ where they were found, such as the breast or bladder, may lead to more accurate diagnoses and potentially better treatments and outcomes for patients, a new study finds.

In the largest undertaking to analyze and compare different cancer types based on genomic sequencing, researchers found at least 10 percent of tumors - and possibly as high as 30 to 50 percent - would be identified differently if oncologists determined their diagnoses by a tumor's molecular makeup. [...]

The results were published online Thursday in the journal Cell. [...]

They found that in many of the cancer types [...] the tumor samples matched up well with the tissue classifications, suggesting that a tumor's location is still important [...]

But with other cancer types, tumor samples on a molecular level appeared to look more like unrelated cancers. For example, a significant number of squamous head-and-neck cancers looked more like some squamous-cell cancers found in the lung.

"How we use that information for treatment is anybody's guess right now," said Josh Stuart, professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz and a senior author of the paper. [...]

The discovery that some tumors shared molecular similarities with tumors from other parts of the body was particularly striking in bladder cancer as well as an aggressive subtype of breast cancer scientists call "basal-like" but is more commonly known as "triple negative." [...]

In the triple-negative breast tumors [...] "It actually looks like a different cancer completely," said Benz, who is also a breast cancer specialist at UCSF. "It's a totally independent type of cancer from a molecular point of view."

Scientists say more work needs to be done before doctors are able to make different treatment decisions based on the new research. Many cancers, such as prostate, liver, melanoma and cervical, have yet to be sequenced, and adding them to the genomic "map" may change results. [...]

"We have to keep doing this for all these cancer types," he said, "to completely reorganize and form a new textbook on oncology."

(Ellipses mine. Read the entire article)

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Replies to This Discussion

GC, my cancer is a relatatively rare type that happens to have the same mutation, but in different cells, as a more common cancer.  It's not treatable by radiation or chemotherapy, so those are not options.

Where I am fortunate, is a treatment was found for that other cancer cell type, and because the mutation is the same as mine, I have a drug that is intended to hold my disease in check.  The recurrence rate in my situation is high, because presumably the drug does not kill the cancer cells, it stops them from growing and they lay in wait for opportunity or further mutation resulting in resistance.

Meanwhile, I am functioning, contributing to society, working in a meaningful profession, and my health plan is paying the pharmaceutical company a fortune for its molecular based drug, based on research similar to this article's.  I am always fatigued, but no pain to speak of and the other disabilities do not sop me from doing what needs to be done.

I'm glad you're enjoying a meaningful quality of life... and hope it continues (or improves!) for a long time!!

(Perhaps an actual cure in your lifetime?... Even when there's a promising research result that seems directly related, Hofstadter's Law often applies. :-)

 ("Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.")


Terry, my thoughts are with you, as well. I enjoy your research and enthusiasm for the Neolithic. I have a playlist of videos describing your work. May I share it in my blog?


I am amazed by the amount of work that goes into cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention and the efforts of clinical physicians to keep up with the latest research. My doctors explained options to me with survival rates and told me of things they do to keep up. Even the technicians who administered the chemicals and procedures had many hours of training. I asked about everything they did, questioning everything. My education, as a patient, gave me confidence in their recommendations, and they provided research results for the "My friend did xxx and his cancer is completely gone."

Daniel, I sounds like you are in a holding pattern, free of pain. Each day is a gift and I wish you could spend more time just resting, tending to your patients with a pace that you set. I like Grinning Cat's response. 

Take good care, dear friend. 



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