We’ve long known that our genes dictate characteristics like eye color and height, but a new study conducted by the National Cancer Institute is indicating that genes can also determine how well mesothelioma patients respond to chemotherapy. Raffit Hassan, M.D., a special investigator with the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, led the study which found that patients with a specific genetic mutation were more sensitive to chemotherapy, and this led to the treatment providing far greater overall survival.
Searching for genetic traits that offer extended survival
Though a diagnosis of mesothelioma always carries a grim prognosis, there are certain characteristics that can help patients live longer or have higher quality of life as they are dealing with the disease and its treatment. Some of these characteristics are obvious: patients who are younger or healthier at the time of diagnosis are more likely to tolerate more invasive treatments, and some cell types of mesothelioma are more aggressive. Researchers have been working towards identifying factors at the cellular level that can guide physicians towards the most effective treatment for each individual, as well as away from treatments that will prove fruitless.
Dr. Hassan’s research examines mesothelioma patients’ genotypes, and focused on mutations in DNA repair genes that make their cells more vulnerable to the effects of chemotherapy. They found that patients who possessed the mutation had significantly longer survival times following platinum-based chemotherapy treatment.
Pleural mesothelioma patients with gene realize unique benefit
Describing the effect that the gene had on mesothelioma patient survival, Dr. Hassan wrote, “Among 385 patients treated with platinum chemotherapy, median overall survival was significantly longer for patients with loss-of-function mutations in any of the targeted genes compared with patients with no such mutation.”
The researchers found a distinct difference in the effect that the gene had in pleural mesothelioma patients versus on peritoneal mesothelioma patients. While pleural mesothelioma patients with the gene and treated with chemotherapy had a remarkable improved median survival of 7.9 years (compared to patients without the gene’s 2.4 year survival), peritoneal mesothelioma patients with the gene experienced no survival difference.