Offering genetic testing to lung cancer patients can potentially save lives, research suggests.
A study of 5,000 patients found genetic profiling of lung tumours boosted survival rates through better targeting of chemotherapy drugs.
The findings, reported in Science Translational Medicine, pave the way for personalised medicine.
Cancer Research UK said matching patients to a personalised treatment is still in its infancy.
The standard way to diagnose lung cancer is to look at cells from a tumour under the microscope.
On this basis, lung cancer can be classified into different tumour types, which helps doctors make decisions about the best treatment to offer.
However, in recent years scientists have made progress towards understanding how cancer can be better treated by matching drugs to the genetic make-up of a tumour.
A team led by Dr Roman Thomas, of the Max Planck Research Group in Cologne, Germany, carried out genetic testing on lung tumour samples from about 5,000 patients to spot genetic differences in lung cancer cells.
Our findings provide support for broad implementation of genome-based diagnosis of lung cancer”
Dr Roman ThomasMax Planck Research Group
They found that while some tumours look similar under the microscope, they actually belong to different subgroups.
Patients who received therapy based on genetic profiling of their tumours had a better prognosis, the study revealed.
Diagnostic genetic testing of lung cancer, combined with tailored treatment, may improve patient survival in the future, say the researchers.
“Our findings provide support for broad implementation of genome-based diagnosis of lung cancer,” they report in Science Translational Medicine.
Commenting on the research, Dr Sarah Hazell, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, said the way scientists think about cancer is changing.
“This research highlights a growing trend of using drugs matched to the individual genetic profile of a tumour,” she said.
“For lung cancer though, it’s too early to claim a victory, as it’s still one of the hardest to treat cancers, and matching patients to a personalised treatment is still in its infancy. ”
Some 42,000 people have lung cancer diagnosed in the UK annually, with about 35,000 deaths from the disease.
Lung cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, which makes it difficult to treat.