Researchers from the University of South Carolina say they have found a new subtype of cervical cancer that may not respond to conventional treatment.
The new strain affects 8 percent of patients, according to the team led by Carolyn Banister, assistant research professor, and Phillip Buckhaults, associate professor, both in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences at the USC College of Pharmacy. Buckhaults is also director of the Cancer Genetics Lab.
The new subtype is initiated by the human papillomavirus, like most cervical cancers. But unlike those cancers, the subtype’s growth is not fed by the virus, according to the researchers.
That means the chemotherapy usually used to treat cervical cancer may not work on this subtype, and doctors should test patients to find the alternative that would work best.
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“This is a new example of cancers not being generic, so one type of cervical cancer is not the same as another type,” Banister said.
“And this is evident when someone has cancer ... and gets the treatment that is most effective, and they may or may not respond,” she added. “We didn’t know previously the difference between people who respond and do not respond. We are now starting to figure it out. It’s the whole idea of personalized medicine.”
Banister said a preliminary analysis of data indicates that a drug called dasatinib, though not yet tried in people, would be more effective for this new subtype than cisplatin, the common therapy for cervical cancer.
“We used to think that all cervical cancers were the same,”she said. “But there’s no reason to subject patients to this therapy when it won’t work.”
The researchers made the discovery by analyzing data from hundreds of cervical cancer samples in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a federally funded project launched in 2005 by the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute.
“There has been a burst of new discoveries ... many different subtypes of different cancers ... because NIH made this new data available to us,” Banister said. “A lot of times we don’t see quickly what our tax dollars go into for research. But there is no single researcher who could afford to do this. Pretty big leaps have happened because of this data.”
About 12,820 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year and about 4,210 women will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. And the disease is more likely in Hispanic and African-American women.
South Carolina ranked 15th nationally for cervical cancer incidence and 12th for cervical cancer deaths in 2013, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
To read the full study, go to at http://www.impactjournals.com/oncotarget/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path%5b%5d=14533.