The revolution has officially begun. With Keytruda, we see a drug that treats different kinds of cancer with the same genetic profile. This is called being tumor agnostic. In short, it doesn't matter where your tumor is located (colon, breast, lung, etc.), but what genetic markers it contains. This has the potential to radically change how we see and treat cancers.
This blog was written by Certified Patient Support Navigator Crawford Clay. How radical is it?
SEE ALSO: Ask the Expert - Immunotherapy 101
My grandfather had colon cancer in the 1960’s. He was treated with surgery and 5-FU. When I had rectal cancer in 2004, I was treated with surgery, radiation and 5-FU, essentially the same treatment my grandfather had. For decades, this was the only option. Every colorectal cancer patient got the same. We hoped it worked, but we didn’t know for sure until after you had used it for a while. Today, we can attack some cancers based on their genetic mutation. This is a much more specific and personalized form of treatment. We can look at your genetic profile and know if certain drugs will work or not. In colorectal cancer, these drugs include Vectibix, Erbitux and Keytruda.
Immunotherapies are a type of treatment that depends on genetic markers. Scientist use these markers to find ways to get your own immune system to attack the tumor. Early returns on several immunotherapies are very promising. The FDA recently announced a major change in how they look at clinical trials. Currently they require a clinical trial for a lung cancer drug and a separate one for a colon cancer drug. The FDA will allow a clinical trial for mutation x, no matter where in the body the tumor is. This is very exciting. The FDA hopes by streamlining the process they can approve new treatments faster and lower costs. This is especially important for immunotherapies that focus on specific genetic markers. As you may recall, some immunotherapies show long lasting tumor reduction. This is one more reason to keep an eye on the Colon Cancer Alliance’s new Clinical Trials Finder. I’m hoping that by making clinical trials easier, we will have more of them. The future will be different for my daughters. If one of them develops a tumor, the doctor won’t say “You have colon cancer.” He’ll say, “You have a tumor in your colon with mutation xyz. We will treat it with drug ABC.” And they will know it will work before they even take it.
Crawford Clay was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer 13 years ago when he was 43. Crawford’s family has a long history of colon cancer. He and his father were diagnosed with the disease within the same week. Crawford has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Div. Crawford has a variety of professional experience including being a youth pastor and working in sales and marketing. Currently, he is the Patient Advocacy Coordinator for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Crawford and his wife live in Stafford, Virginia with two teenager daughters and two chocolate labs.