Blood screen may help cancer patients thwart radiation side effects, say Stanford researchers

STANFORD, Calif. - Radiation therapy is a powerful tool for treating cancer, but for 5 percent of patients that lifesaving treatment comes with serious side effects. Screening blood for the activity level of 24 genes may identify those patients most likely to react badly to radiation, say Stanford University School of Medicine researchers. With this tool, doctors may soon be able to tailor-make treatments for individual patients.

"We've been treating cancer patients as if one treatment fits all," said Gilbert Chu, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and of biochemistry who led the study. "Cancer patients need to be treated for their particular cancer and their own bodies."

Some factors are a tip-off that a patient may have an unusually severe reaction to radiation. Patients who have autoimmune diseases such as diabetes or lupus, or who have certain rare genetic diseases need to be monitored carefully or avoid radiation altogether.

Even beyond these obvious signs, some patients suffer disfiguring, disabling or extremely painful effects. These may include wounds that don't heal, skin burns so severe they require plastic surgery, or brain damage. Past attempts to identify these patients by screening the cancer cells themselves have failed, according to Chu. In his study, published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Chu and colleagues describe 24 genes that can be used to single out these patients for alternate therapies or lower radiation doses.

Chu said screening blood rather than cancer cells means the test would be more accessible to patients. "To be most useful it had to be done on peripheral blood and with a small number of genes," he said.

Chu, whose research revolves around how cells repair damaged DNA, thought that patients who respond poorly to radiation might have cells that don't properly recognize or repair radiation-induced DNA damage. These cells may turn on different ge

Contact: Amy Adams
Stanford University Medical Center

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