CancerConnect News: Precision cancer medicines and the companion tests used to identify them are increasingly important in the management of cancer. It is important to understand how aware patients are of these evolving treatment options and whether they are being discussed with their doctors. Our recent survey suggests that only one third of cancer patients are aware of necessary biomarker testing or discussed the role of precision cancer medicine with their treating physician.
Precision cancer medicine utilizes molecular diagnostic testing, including DNA sequencing, to identify cancer-driving abnormalities in a cancer’s genome. Testing is currently done on a tissue sample from the cancer however “liquid biopsies” are starting to be performed and are likely to see increased use in the future. Once a genetic abnormality is identified, a specific targeted therapy can be used to attack a specific mutation or other cancer-related change in the DNA programming of the cancer cells in many situations.
Cancer Connect recently performed an on line survey in 1000 cancer patients designed to evaluate their awareness of genomics and precision cancer medicine and whether their physician discussed their role in the management of the patients cancer. Patients were recruited from CancerConnect-a social community for cancer patients that can be accessed directly or via Harvard Dana Farber, Beth Israel, Roswell Park, Ohio State, University of California and other leading cancer centers and clinics. Key findings from the survey included the following:
- ~29% of doctors had discussed genomic or biomarker testing with their patients. Patients were more likely to recall discussing biomarker than genomic testing.
- ~30% of doctors mentioned the use of targeted therapy or precision cancer medicine as a treatment option. This increased from 22% before 2017 to 35% in 2017.
- 20% of patients were aware of liquid biopsies and 14% had one performed.
Patients with lung and ovarian cancer were most likely to have discussed genomic or biomarker testing with their doctors. Overall 50% of ovarian and 37% of lung cancer patients were aware of genomic/biomarker testing. Bladder, colon, head and neck, and gastrointestinal cancer patients were much less likely to have discussed genomic or biomarker testing – less that 14% reported being aware of these tests.
While overall awareness of genomic and biomarker testing was relatively low, awareness of treatment with targeted therapy or precision cancer medicines was much higher. This was especially true for lung, head and neck, and bladder cancer ~ 50% of patient’s discussed these treatment options with their doctors. Interestingly only 12% of colon cancer patients doctors discussed genomic or biomarker testing and 16% discussed targeted treatment.
Although increasing, the survey suggests that cancer patients are still relatively unaware of the role of genomic and biomarker testing in the management of their cancer. More patients appear to recall targeted therapy or precision cancer medicine than the test used to identify the therapy. Not surprisingly lung cancer patients were the group most likely to have been offered testing and targeted therapy.