More news from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference this week comes from researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London. They’ve carried out a large-scale analysis of patient data from another trial to predict which men are most likely to experience unpleasant side effects after radiotherapy.

7 Nov 2017

At the moment, we don’t know which men will experience serious side effects from radiotherapy and which men won’t. This means that for safety reasons, the dose of radiation that can be given has to be limited for everyone. However, if it were possible to predict those men who were most or least likely to suffer side effects, the doses could be altered accordingly, allowing men unlikely to experience side effects to potentially get a greater dose of cancer-killing radiation.

To try to find measures that would predict a man’s likely response to radiotherapy, the researchers analysed data from 721 patients on another trial, the CHHiP trial. For each of these men an extensive suite of data was available, including medical history, genetics, radiotherapy dose and reported side effects. The researchers fed all this data into a computer programme able to run tests sophisticated enough to make statistical links between the different information sets. 

From this analysis, the researchers identified a combination of factors that could predict toxicity to radiotherapy. In particular, specific genetic characteristics – SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) – that could indicate whether a man would experience rectal bleeding.

Big data approach takes us another step towards personalised treatment

This ability to combine and analyse large amounts of different information at the same time, is called ‘big data analytics’. It has huge potential to speed up analysis of the massive amounts of genetic and other patient data that’s now routinely collected as part of clinical trials and could be instrumental in determining which treatments will be most suitable for which patients.

This new approach to identifying men at risk of serious side effects could prove to be extremely useful in real-world clinical situations, and may well help patients to decide between different treatment options.

However, before this could happen, the results will need to be tested further to show that it really will work as well as the research team hope.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK said: “There are over 330,000 men living with or after prostate cancer in the UK and many are left to deal with life changing side effects as a result of their treatment, such as bowel problems and erectile dysfunction. Research like this has the potential to not only predict how well a patient will respond to treatment, but also – as in this case – how likely it is they will experience side effects. This could make a huge difference to men when it comes to choosing the most suitable treatment for their particular cancer.

“However, it’s early days and we look forward to seeing the results of this analysis validated in additional studies.”

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