Cancer treatment plans can be personalized with potentially life-saving analysis that lets patients and their care teams learn about the unique characteristics of a tumor.
Senior Vice President of Patient Support and Research Strategy, Colorectal Cancer Alliance
Just as no two people are alike, every cancer tumor is different. Patients who know about the unique characteristics of their tumors are empowered with information that can be pivotal in treatment — and even lifesaving.
Patients and their care teams can learn more about a tumor through a process called biomarker testing. Analysis of blood or tissue samples can reveal biological changes in cancer cells.
These changes, known as biomarkers, can help a patient and their doctor determine the most effective treatment plan by identifying therapies that will be more effective or helping to avoid ones that will be unnecessarily toxic and unlikely to work.
Biomarker testing is a critical tool in cancer treatment, and not just before therapy starts. Alyssa Kelly, a stage IV colorectal cancer patient from Illinois, had testing after her tumor grew during chemotherapy. Analysis showed a change in her cancer cells known as the HER2 biomarker — one of many biomarkers currently known in colorectal cancer.
The discovery led to changing Alyssa’s treatment plan to one with a more effective combination of therapies that has allowed her to schedule an upcoming surgery. In advanced cases, surgery often happens after chemotherapy has had an opportunity to shrink the tumor.
“We went to multiple hospitals, and they all said it’s chemo for life,” her husband Chris Kelly says. “After she started this second line of chemo, she had a remarkable response. I remember the doctor called me, and you could hear the excitement in his voice.”
Kelly Noonan, a stage IV (metastatic) colorectal cancer patient from Colorado, had biomarker testing after a recurrence. She also carries the HER2 biomarker, which appears in about 4% of colorectal cancers.
“That’s a big deal,” Noonan says. “Biomarker testing truly did save my life because it gave us another avenue for treatment, another way to look at my specific cancer.”
Noonan is now continuing treatment with drugs originally developed for breast cancer, and it appears to be working, she says.
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance recommends anyone diagnosed with colorectal cancer, regardless of stage, be tested for high microsatellite instability (MSI-H) biomarker. And anyone diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) colorectal cancer should be tested for at least four predictive biomarkers: KRAS, NRAS, BRAF, and HER2.
Patients shouldn’t wait for their doctor to bring up biomarker testing. Unfortunately, the medical field is changing rapidly and not all doctors have caught up with biomarker testing.
Once testing is complete, patients should ask their doctor for a report and discuss a personalized treatment plan.
For help with biomarker testing or any other support, patients can call the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s toll-free helpline at (877) 422-2030.