How you can tell if a cancer treatment is working
A new Irish research team has found that the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be assessed in the early days of treatment.
In a study of almost 7,000 patients, the team of researchers from The University of Dublin found that if a patient was being treated in a hospital with good quality equipment, they could detect early signs of the disease in their blood and urine within 10 days.
They then tested for cancer with a drug called cetuximab.
It is the first study to show that biomarkers can be identified in a patient’s urine and blood for early signs, after they have received treatment.
“We think this will help doctors make informed decisions about their patients’ risk and benefits of treatment,” Dr Paul O’Connor, who led the study, said.
Dr O’Brien said that in a small, isolated setting, early signs could also help doctors to assess whether they were being targeted with the most aggressive treatments.
“There is a real opportunity for early detection, because the majority of cancers do not progress to metastasis and there is no evidence that the treatment can make a significant difference to survival,” he said.
“Our study found early detection could help to improve treatment decisions and make it more likely for a patient to be able to receive the best treatment.”
He said that the data also suggested that doctors can take the results of a patient in their treatment in their hands.
“It’s not a matter of telling patients to stop, but rather to assess if they are in a good place and how much they need to improve,” he added.
The researchers used a database of nearly 7,700 patients who received radiotherapy or chemotherapy, and used a technique called microdialysis.
“Microdialysis can detect the changes in a person’s urine, blood, and lymph nodes, which are known biomarkers of cancer,” Dr O’Bryan said.
They found that within the first month of treatment, the patient’s blood and lymph node changes were consistently positive for cetoximab, which was used in the majority in this study.
“These results are extremely exciting and very promising,” he continued.
“The idea of using microdialys is to see if a treatment will work, rather than if it will make a difference.”
Dr OBrien said the study showed that there is a huge amount of information that can be gathered from patients’ urine and other samples.
“They have to have some level of confidence in the results that are coming back,” he explained.
“So you can make the case for whether the treatment is effective or not, and how effective it is.”
The study also showed that early detection was a major advantage.
“In some patients, it could be that they are getting the treatment, but they are not having the symptoms or they are having symptoms that they have not had for years,” he noted.
“In these patients, they might have cancer and need to start chemotherapy, but have had no symptoms or no symptoms that are causing problems for the cancer.”
Dr Paul O ‘Connor said the work was the result of a collaboration between the University of Dundalk and The University Hospital, Cork, with support from The European Union.
He said the hope was that the research could help doctors and patients make informed treatment decisions, and make early detection of cancer more feasible.
“When you are diagnosing a patient, you want to make sure you have the right treatment,” he pointed out.
“If you can identify early signs that are positive, then you can start the patient on the right course of treatment.”