Researchers develop ‘potentially life changing’ oesophageal cancer test

Researchers say a personalised approach could lead to more patients having their tumours successfully removed.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have developed a test that could radically improve the lives of people with oesophageal cancer.

The test, could for the first time, help personalise treatment and allow clinicians to decide the most appropriate chemotherapy for early stage oesophageal cancer.

The team say this tailored treatment could lead to more patients have tumours successfully removed.

The researchers was carried out by Queen's University Belfast and the University of Cambridge, in partnership with medicine company Almac Diagnostic Services.

Current treatment for oesophageal cancer involves a course of standard chemotherapy aiming to reduce the tumour size before follow-up surgery.

Only around 20 per cent of tumours will reduce in size following the standard course of chemotherapy.

For oncologists identifying the most effective chemotherapy to reduce the size of oesophageal tumours can be a challenge.

Dr Richard Turkington, Senior Clinical Lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, and lead author on the study explains: "The UK has the highest incidence in the world of a particular type of oesophageal cancer called oesophageal adenocarcinoma, with 16,000 cases each year. One-third of patients are diagnosed with tumours which have not spread and can be removed by surgery following a course of chemotherapy. However, less than one in five patients show evidence of shrinkage from the chemotherapy when their tumour is removed."

"In order to cure more oesophageal cancers we need to identify the most effective treatment for each patient to give them the best chance of all of their cancer being removed. At present we apply a 'one-size-fits-all' approach where everyone gets the same type of chemotherapy before their surgery. But we know that different chemotherapies work better for different patients so we need to match the right treatment to the right patient. This test enables us to gain a molecular understanding of each patient's cancer, which could then inform the decision to select the right chemotherapy to shrink the tumour."

Professor Richard Kennedy, McClay Professor of Medical Oncology at Queen's University Belfast and Global Vice-president of Biomarker Developmentat Almac Diagnostic Services commented: "This study highlights the benefits of close collaboration between academia and industry and the strong links between Queen's and Almac in particular. It expands the indications for the DDIR signature to oesophageal adenocarcinoma and brings stratified medicine a step closer in this difficult to treat cancer."

The research has been published in the journal Gut, one of the highest ranking gastroenterology journals in the world.

The research team is continuing to test the assay further in other sample collections and through clinical trials.