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Learning from the Past and Looking Forward

November 27, 2013

So what does the future hold? I’ve talked about how we look back to learn from our mistakes and our successes but we also need to look forward to plan where we will focus our resources.

Since I have been involved in oncology I’ve witnessed a dramatic change in the way we approach lung cancer. When I started, we treated all non small cell lung cancers the same – we did not have the tools to select the best treatment based on the subtype of cancer. Fast forward ten years and suddenly we realize that lung cancer can be subdivided into many different types based on different mutations AND even more important, we have different targeted drugs that we can give to help these specific patients.

This ability to find mutations that cause lung cancer and target them with specific drugs only works for 15-20% of patients. And these targeted therapies do not work forever; eventually the cancer grows in spite of our best efforts. I think our biggest challenge for the future is finding the right answer for the remaining 80% and figuring out how to overcome resistance.

The answers to these questions are not going to come easily. My colleagues, Drs. Janessa Laskin, Steven Jones and Marco Marra, are spearheading the Personalized Onco-Genomics (POG) Project that involves sequencing the whole tumour genome to find out what drives the cancer and how we can try to control it. Collaboration between the BC Cancer Agency and BC Cancer Research Centre will help bring us closer to finding the right tools to treat, not just lung cancer, but many other cancers too.

I am lucky to be practicing oncology at this time and place. So much is happening in terms of our understanding of this disease, drug development and improving care. But everything we learn—small or big, positive or negative—teaches us something about how to face this disease.

Thank you for following my blog this month,