Cancer breakthrough for thousands as test could show if blood cancer drug would work

Myeloma describes a type of blood cancer that develops from bone marrow cells called plasma cells. Despite many scientific and medical advances, there is currently no cure for this cancer. The main goal of treatment is to get myeloma into remission and keep it that way for as long as possible, and now a new gene test could help identify patients who might benefit from lenalidomide, a blood cancer drug.

Researchers have found a new way to predict whether lenalidomide can help myeloma patients, which could prevent the disease from returning.

According to a study published in the journal Blood, in some patients, the risk of cancer progression or death was reduced by up to 40 times when taking the drug.

The genetic test looks for genetic clues in cancer cells that can help identify patients who have little effect on the life-saving drug. This can save them from side effects such as malnutrition and infections.

The research team said the results were “absolutely significant” and called for the test to be used to treat the 6,000 Britons diagnosed with myeloma each year.

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Many of these patients take lenalidomide for up to ten years to try and control their disease. However, blood cancer medicine does not work for some people.

Dr Martin Kaiser, consultant haematologist and clinician at the London Cancer Research Institute, said: “They often ask the question, ‘Should I really continue to take this medicine?’ and “How much does it actually help me?”

Unfortunately, some studies have shown that taking the drug for a long time may be associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but more research is needed in this area.

A new genetic test could help identify those who might actually benefit from lenalidomide and contain cancer.

The drug blocks the development of abnormal cells, keeping the cancer in remission for an average of about three years, compared to two years without treatment.

“But there are huge differences – for some it’s a decade, for others it’s a year,” Professor Kaiser said.

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Previously, there was no way to know who would not benefit from a drug.

But a new study by the Cancer Research Institute and the University of Leeds tested 556 newly diagnosed myeloma patients and found “superresponders”.

The test involves taking a sample of bone marrow tissue with a needle in the back under local anesthesia and looking for patterns in the cancer’s DNA.

Patients with single myeloma have a 40-fold lower risk of cancer progression or death.

Patients with one of these “single” genetic anomalies lived an average of 57.3 months longer before their disease progressed.

However, patients with another “hit-once” genetic marker known as amplification (1q) did not appear to receive consistent benefit from lenalidomide, suggesting that this group may be more challenging than others.

Dr. Kaiser added: “Those who may not experience such benefits may want to consider options such as clinical trials of new drug combinations.”

The researchers believe the gene test could be used to identify those who might benefit from it, as it is already widely available from the National Health Service.

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