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Biomarkers: How Can They Help?

Posted on November 8, 2013

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Congrats to our 2013 Blue Hope Research Award winner, Dr. Marios Giannakis! This one-year fellowship provides critical resources and funding to some of the brightest investigators focusing on colon cancer research. This year, we’re honing in on biomarkers and how these genetic indicators can aid in the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. A little fuzzy on your biomarker knowledge? We sat down with Michelle Hastings, stage IV warrior, to learn more and find out how biomarkers have affected her personal cancer journey.

How did biomarkers change your treatment regime?

Michelle Hastings enjoying life with her children and husband.

Michelle Hastings enjoying life with her children and husband.

Over the summer, I had two severe reactions to traditional chemotherapy used to combat colon cancer, and my doctor wanted to see what out-of-the-box treatments might be available to battle my cancer. To do so, he sent my tumor out to a company that does genomics testing of cancers. When my doctor received the results, he found that my cancer has a low expression of a particular protein, which is also found in brain cancer patients. Because of this, and because of two studies on this drug, I’m now taking a brain cancer drug called Temodar. The hope is that, because this drug works by taking advantage of the low protein expression my cancer has, this drug will work to tame my cancer and perhaps give us stabilization of the growth.  

Have you found hope through biomarker research?

Biomarker research has given me a sense of hope because it has allowed my doctor to look at something other than off-the-shelf, traditional chemotherapy treatments used for colon cancer patients. Without biomarker research, my doctor and I would be looking at one or two remaining treatment options, rather than several treatment options. As we look more into clinical trials, we will also be using the biomarker results to determine whether or not these phase I clinical trials will be a good option for me. I really feel like this research is at the cutting-edge of cancer treatment, and will be how we continue to fight this disease in the coming years.

How do you feel biomarkers will change the future of cancer research?

People do not respond the same way to traditional chemotherapies. I am a perfect example – I’ve eliminated Folfox and Folofiri entirely due to allergic reactions. By looking at cancer cells and their genomic make-up, doctors are able to make much more informed decisions about how to treat an individual, thinking outside the colon cancer box. Basically, doctors can move forward with treatment in a much more personalized way. Patients now have hope where there wasn’t just a few years ago, before this technology was available to us.

What’s the most exciting thing about biomarkers to you?

I think the most exciting thing about biomarkers is that it’s giving those of us living with long-term, chronic cancer hope. It’s given my doctor and me much more information about my cancer specifically, and allowed us to make a much more informed decisions about how to treat it and, hopefully, how to stabilize my growth. For me, personally, this has allowed me to think ahead a bit, and to look to the future with a brighter outlook. I think that this will give me more time with my family and my children, as my doctor and I are able to fight my cancer much more aggressively. Biomarkers are really the future of cancer treatment, and I’m couldn’t be more grateful for that. 

Learn more about Colon Cancer Alliance research initiatives at www.ccalliance.org/research. Still have questions? Call our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.

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