GI Cancer: The Promise of Targeted Therapies

Targeted therapy offers a new hope for cancer patients and opens the door for the development of new treatment strategies for patients who carry certain genetic mutations in their tumors.

One condition treated effectively with targeted therapies is gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), the most common type of sarcoma which occurs when abnormal cells grow in the gastrointestinal track. With July recognized as Sarcoma Awareness Month and July 13th as GIST Awareness Day, it’s the ideal time to draw attention to the growing body of evidence suggesting that GIST tumors—which don’t respond well to chemotherapy or radiation—can be treated effectively with targeted therapies such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).

All cells in the body are regulated by DNA that controls cell growth. Cancer cells typically have DNA mutations—changes in the normal DNA—that can cause rapid and unregulated growth of the cancer cells, leading tumors to grow and spread to various organs.

Specific mutations have been identified as main drivers for growth in GIST tumors. Targeted therapies combat these mutations by blocking the molecules that allow tumors to grow. TKIs can treat the tumors effectively or shrink them enough that surgery becomes an option. This approach precisely targets mutations that are predominantly present in cancer cells and offers a new way to control cancer cells without significantly affecting normal cells.

Our physicians at the Zangmeister Cancer Center strive to provide patients who have certain genetic mutations with access to clinical trials that include new targeted therapies. This is done by gathering information on the patient’s personal and family history of cancer. We then biopsy the tumor and send the tissue sample to a lab for genetic analysis. The results are then carefully reviewed to determine if targeted therapy—some of which are FDA approved while others are part of clinical trials—may be effective. This is an alternative to the more conventional “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment and helps sidestep the cost and side effects associated with treatments that may not work on certain mutations.

This approach continues to evolve, and most likely will help increase the number of targetable mutations and available targeted therapies available to patients over the next years. This is an exciting time to be treating cancer, implementing new therapies that will lead to even more new tools for success.