Biological Markers Found That Correlate To Esophageal Cancer Treatment Success

ATLANTA -- Duke University Medical Center researchers report they are one step closer to finding biochemical guide markers that might help improve treatment for patients with esophageal cancer, one of the deadliest of cancers. The scientists discovered that certain tell-tale proteins seem to signal the success or failure of chemotherapy, as well as resistance to radiation treatment, in esophageal cancer patients. The finding of such markers could lead to more effective targeting of such aggressive therapies, which in general have not proved successful in clinical trials, the researchers said.

The scientists prepared their findings for presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology. The researchers evaluated the impact of seven different genes and their protein products on the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for esophageal cancer. Three of the genetic markers were linked to significant differences in treatment response and survival.

One of the proteins can identify patients whose tumors will reject chemotherapy even before it has a chance to work, while a different marker indicates a patient might do well with the therapy. The third marker signifies that resistance to radiation treatment is likely.

Information allowing treatment response to be predicted in esophageal cancer would be highly valued by physicians because few patients respond to chemotherapy or radiation. Five-year survival is less than 10 percent, and about 13,000 patients are diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the United States each year. Right now, doctors have no way of knowing who will or won=t be helped by more aggressive therapies.

"We want to find and treat only those patients who need extra therapy, and only those patients who will respond to it," said Harpole, associate professor of surgery in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. The project was funded by a grant from the Duke T

Contact: Joanna Downer
Duke University Medical Center

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