Experts Call for Genetic Testing to Personalise Treatment for All Children Assessed for New Cancer Treatments

Experts Call for Genetic Testing to Personalise Treatment for All Children Assessed for New Cancer Treatments

All children with cancer should have the genetic profile of their tumour comprehensively analysed when being considered for new treatments, say leading childhood cancer experts.

Leading scientists and doctors are calling for a major upscaling in genetic sequencing for children with cancer, to understand patients’ disease better and help direct them to clinical trials that could offer more precise treatment.

They also believe this genetic information could help drive the discovery of new targeted treatments for childhood cancers.

NHS England plans to introduce an NHS Genomic Medicine Service shortly to begin putting in place the resources and infrastructure to expand access to sequencing.

Experts at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust are urging the NHS to take this huge opportunity to dramatically scale up access to genetic sequencing for children so that doctors routinely carry out sequencing in children at all stages in their treatment, and especially at relapse.

They are calling for new funding and changes in clinical practice to turn the promise of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service into reality. Their call is being timed for Children’s Cancer Awareness Month, to maximise the chances that governments across the UK will listen.

1,800 UK children diagnosed with cancer each year

The molecular profile of a child’s tumour, which includes genetic information about the cancer, is currently only assessed in sufficient detail at diagnosis at a few specialist paediatric centres in the UK and, till very recently, very rarely sufficiently studied at relapse. The situation is better in some other parts of Europe and the US.

Around 1,800 children (aged 14 or under) are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year. Childhood cancer survival has plateaued and an insufficient number of the new targeted drugs that attack cancer-causing genes have been made available for testing in children.

The experts believe that genetic sequencing and other detailed molecular profiling could help direct children to trials of existing targeted treatments that might prove effective.

They also argue that if we are to drive further advances in children’s cancer that can improve survival, it is essential to begin routinely profiling tumours so that specific molecular targets can be identified and ultimately the right drugs administered.

Molecular profiling is vital for discovering and developing new targeted treatments and introducing the most effective of these as early as possible.

Sequencing is less likely to direct treatment at diagnosis, where conventional therapy is often effective, but after relapse it is absolutely critical to open up access to potentially life-saving targeted therapy where those relevant targets exist in paediatric cancers.

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