Australian and New Zealand researchers are currently working on a test that could tell doctors if there is a need for courses of chemotherapy after surgery. At the moment, most patients receive chemo as a preventive measure, because there is no way to tell whether or not the risk or recurrence exists.
“While chemotherapy is an essential, life-saving treatment, we don’t want patients receiving it if they don’t need it. We want to help these patients avoid serious and ongoing side-effects associated with chemotherapy”, said Jeanne Tie, Associate Professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, one of the trial leaders.
Chemotherapy can have a significant contribution to the healing process, but at the same time, it is usually associated with a number of side effects related to the cytotoxics or other heavy drugs used. In the short term, these include pain, fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, bleeding problems and an increased susceptibility to infection. A number of long-lasting effects are also possible, for example, heart, lung, nerve or memory problems, and also fertility issues.
Professor Sumi Ananda noted that “undergoing chemotherapy is a huge imposition on a patient’s life, both because of the side-effects patients have to endure, as well as the time the treatment takes. Many of my patients have to stop working, and postpone important parts of their life such as travel, so they can attend their chemotherapy sessions and manage the side-effects of the treatment.”
The test relies on detecting ctDNA or “circulating tumour DNA”. These are remnants from dead cancerous cells that have ruptured and float freely in the bloodstream. Finding such traces typically means a high risk or cancer relapse (at least 90%).
Tests are presently ongoing in more than 40 hospitals across the two countries.