Determining the genetic composition of brain cancers informs treatment, predicts outcome

Research confirms that determining the genetic composition of brain cancers can better inform doctors and patients for treatment options and prognosis. The findings could change the future of how cancers are diagnosed.

A study published in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology confirmed that a specific chromosomal change in oligodendroglial brain tumours, first discovered by U of C researcher Dr. Gregory Cairncross, is associated with a very good prognosis and may also identify patients who would benefit from chemotherapy treatment in addition to radiotherapy at diagnosis for longer tumour control."The old school of thought was that a cancer is a cancer is a cancer, but that simply doesn't hold true with what we know today. Looking at a cancer under the microscope is not enough anymore," says Cairncross, principal investigator for the clinical trial and head of clinical neurosciences at the U of C's Faculty of Medicine and Calgary HealthRegion. "By testing for the geneticmakeup of brain cancers, we can better define what ‘cancer' we're dealing with, which helps us make better and wiser treatment recommendations for our patients."This insight offers hope to refine the way brain cancers – and all cancers – are evaluated in the future. Recognizing the evolution from microscopic diagnosis to molecular diagnosis, the U of C and Alberta Cancer Board are developing a new Molecular Diagnostics Program in the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Alta. The program, which will provide space for testing the molecular and genetic composition of brain tumours, is initially funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation Chair in Brain Tumour Research at the University of Calgary.

"The new laboratory will allow us to test the genetic makeup of brain cancers prior to starting treatment," says Dr. Chris Brown, director, of the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute. "Research is leading cancer researchers and clinicians to change the way we test tumours and customize treatments. We are excited about the laboratory's potential to guide and improve cancer treatment in Alberta and the world."

"When fully operational, the new laboratory will focus attention on the evaluation of genetic changes in oligodendrogliomas and glioblastomas, two types of brain cancer where genetic subtypes exist," says Tony Magliocco, director, Translational Laboratories, Tom Baker Cancer Centre. "Currently, the diagnostic test procedures are being perfected and in the coming months will be applied to newly diagnosed tumour samples from across Alberta."

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