Cancer researchers have made a breakthrough that could see some patients being spared gruelling chemotherapy.
Experts at Queen’s University Belfast believe treating bowel tumours could now be “tailored” depending on the “subtype” of the disease.
They say the “genomic approach” to understanding bowel, or colorectal, cancer “could improve the prognosis and quality of life”.
Joint senior author of the study Professor Mark Lawler said the findings could see a change to the usual use of chemotherapy.
He added: “While this may be successful for some, for others it will have no effect on fighting the cancer, though the patients may suffer debilitating side effects such as nerve damage.
“A ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t a viable option if we are to effectively tackle this disease.” Dr Philip Dunne, Senior Research Fellow at Queen’s, added: “Through analysing molecular and genetic data, we have discovered there are different subtypes of bowel cancer.
“This research unequivocally identifies robust gene signatures that can be used to inform patient management.
Dr Catherine Pickworth, of Cancer Research UK, said that “personalised medicine” would “spare people unnecessary therapy if it won’t help”. She added: “This study is a step forward in achieving this, giving us genetic signatures to look out for in bowel cancer patients.
“The next steps will be to find out which treatment works best for each genetic signatures so that cancer treatments can be tailored to each patient, so they have the best chance of beating cancer.”
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland, with more than 2,500 people diagnosed each year. Mortality rates remain high, as the disease is the second most common cause of cancer death.
Survivor Ed Goodall said: “Discovering the subtypes is really ground breaking work because it will have massive implications for patient care and treatment.”