News & Information | START In The News

April 20th, 2011
By: Wendy Rigby

Genetic tissue testing leads to 'personalized' cancer treatment

SAN ANTONIO -- The term “personalized medicine” is taking on a whole new meaning at a San Antonio cancer clinic. START is using genetic profiling of tumors to target experimental therapies. Some of the early results are quite impressive.
For 14 years, Tara Hernandez of Kerrville has been battling an incurable, untreatable cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma. The disease arises from glands. Only surgery and radiation have kept her tumors in check.

“When she came to us, she was having difficulty breathing,” explained Dr. Anthony Tolcher, medical oncologist. “She was having a lot of pain. She had quite a bit of disfigurement of the tumors in her neck.”

At START in San Antonio, doctors took samples of Hernandez’ tumor and used technology called the Sequenom to look at mutations in her genes.

The results of this specific tumor tissue testing led them to prescribe her an experimental pill therapy. It has resulted in a 60% to 70% regression of her tumor. It gets smaller with each passing catscan.

“She’s ended up being a perfect example of personalized medicine,” Tolcher said. “She’s had a beautiful response. I’ve never in my career seen an adenocycstic carcinoma shrink on any therapy whatsoever.”

“I’ve been able to breathe better, get around, have a little more energy and feel better,” Hernandez explained.

Genetic profiling is a new tool for treating cancer, a clue to better therapies and less wasted time on medication trial and error.

“It will take some of the guesswork out of clinical trials,” Tolcher added.

START is the only center in South Texas using this kind of comprehensive tumor testing routinely for patients. Each year, they care for about 500 people on experimental therapies.