Research supported by AICR has led to the discovery of a marker which could help diagnose colon cancer more accurately. Predicting which colon cancers were likely to spread would mean that patients could be given chemotherapy to improve their chance of a cure.
Professor Chris Hutchison of Durham University and his team, in collaboration with researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, studied the tissue samples from 700 bowel cancer patients for the presence of the protein Lamin A. They found that most of the samples that had Lamin A were from patients who had died of the cancer, because it had spread around their bodies. Next, they studied colon cancer cells grown in the laboratory. When these cells were made to produce Lamin A, they moved around more and spread faster.
This meant that Lamin A was a ‘marker’ – an indicator that colon cancers were likely to spread. The ability to diagnose which colon cancers would spread could make a crucial difference for many patients.
“The front-line treatment for colon cancer is surgery,” Professor Hutchinson explained, “but if the cancer is going to spread, the patients also need chemotherapy. The surgeon can see if there is a significant amount of cancer spread, but it is very difficult to spot the start of cancer spread – it’s simply too small to be seen. Checking for Lamin A could tell us which patients need chemotherapy.”
The next stage will be to develop a diagnostic test for Lamin A which can be used out on colon cancer patients when they go to hospital. Colon cancer one of the most common types of cancer and current treatments are able to save only about half of the patients. This discovery may show us how to identify which cancers need which treatments and in so doing help save a lot of lives.