SCIENTISTS here are recruiting stomach cancer patients for a clinical trial that may change the way the cancer is treated. They have identified two main types of this cancer, and believe customising the treatment to the cancer type can improve the patient’s chance of survival and quality of life. They are looking for 90 patients newly diagnosed with Stage 4 of this cancer and who have not had chemotherapy. Participants in the trial will get four rounds of treatment free; the remaining rounds may be subsidised. The trial, expected to last until 2013, is run by the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium (SGCC), which comprises scientists and doctors from local universities, hospitals and cancer and research bodies.
Gastric cancer, which kills about 330 people here each year, is the fifth most common cancer among men, and the seventh among women. Asians from Korea, Japan and China are more susceptible to the disease, which scientists say is partly caused by a diet high in salt and preservatives. Doctors now treat it with a cocktail of drugs, which trigger side effects such as nausea, vomiting and kidney damage. This is because scientists have known for more than four decades of the different types of gastric cancer, but agree that the differences are visible only under a microscope, and are subjective.
The new mode of treatment proposed by the SGCC divides gastric cancers into two types by their DNA. In laboratory tests involving some 200 samples, the researchers also found that current drugs have different effects on each of these cancer types. Fluorouracil, a common drug, for example, is effective 55 per cent of the time against one cancer type, but only 23 per cent of the time against the other type. Dr Patrick Tan, an associate professor at Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School who led the study, said the new identification system could result in patients being given more targeted drugs. “This will also reduce side effects from drugs useless to them and help them save time and money.”
The scientists plan to conduct further tests involving larger sample sizes from different countries to confirm the two types of gastric cancer. They are also working on a customised “gene chip” that can identify the patient’s cancer type within a week. Similar technology has been used in countries such as the United States to identify breast cancer patients with a higher chance of a relapse. Those interested in the trial may call 6772-2611 or 6436-8141 for information.