BEIRUT: Cancer patients in Lebanon will soon be able to benefit from a new genetic test that helps to identify the best course of treatment more precisely, efficiently and cheaply, experts announced this week.
The innovative tumor-profiling test works by identifying gene variations that affect a person’s response to various treatment drugs. It is already being implemented in the United States and has just become available in Lebanon, according to oncologists gathered at a symposium at Le Vendome Hotel Wednesday.
“In the past, we used to follow specific protocols to treat each cancerous tumor, we used to apply a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Dr. Fadlo Khuri, professor and chair of the department of hematology and medical oncology at Emory University and deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute in the U.S.
“But now we cannot remain working this way.”
The symposium, titled “New Test for Cancer Patients: Tumor Profiling,” was organized by Integrated Pharma Solutions Genomix, a company founded by a group of experts focused on improving patient care by utilizing the latest medical technologies.
The test is especially beneficial for patients whose cancer is in the advanced stages, Khuri said. At this point, when treatment options are slim and time is running out, making the wrong choice can prove fatal. So patients who suffer from cancers that are rare, aggressive or metastatic – have moved from one place in the body to another – are all ideal candidates for the tumor-profiling test.
Patients with a survival rate of over 90 percent do not need to take the test.
“The goal is to increase the number of those who will benefit from treatment and decrease the number of those who will not benefit from that same treatment,” Khuri explained.
Part of the problem with the current system is that some patients not only do not benefit from their treatment, but are actually harmed by the increase in the toxicity level associated with the drug. Millions of dollars are estimated to be spent yearly on treatments that do not benefit patients.
“We need to know who to treat,” Khuri stressed.
According to Fadi Farhat, president of the Lebanese Society of Hematology and Oncology, the benefits of profiling as early as possible, particularly for breast cancer, can help differentiate between high-risk and low-risk patients, save on the cost of unnecessary treatment and relieve patients of the burden of the wrong treatment’s side effects.
Patients who want to take the test can now do so by having a biopsy performed at central laboratories, Farhat explained, and the procedure is expected to be covered by some insurance companies once these companies finish studying it.
He emphasized the rising need for cancer patients to be informed of their medical condition, and to work with their physician to choose the treatment most suited to their needs.
“A study presented at ESMO 2012 showed that 89 percent of the patients surveyed wanted to be informed by their physicians about the kinds of treatments that suit them personally,” Farhat said.
“Also, 74 percent are ready to wait before starting the treatment until the most appropriate option is chosen on the basis of the results of the genetic test to determine the tumor profiling.”
“Up to 60 percent of breast cancer patients can be saved the burden of side effects of chemotherapy thanks to this test,” Farhat explained.
“The genetic test is the future.”