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Press Release

Bowel cancer patients in the dark about treatment options

Merck Serono
Posted on: 02 Oct 12

New data shows that only half (52%) of metastatic bowel cancer patients know about the KRAS biomarker test which identifies if they could benefit from targeted treatment

London, 2 October 2012 – A new multinational study exploring patient awareness and understanding of personalised medicines was presented at ESMO 2012 Congress (European Society for Medical Oncology), and revealed that just over half (52%) of metastatic bowel cancer patients (cancer that has spread) know about the KRAS test, a test that identifies if they may benefit from targeted treatment.1 The study was conducted across 3 different cancer types in patients with breast, lung and bowel cancer and uncovered that whilst the majority of patients want to be involved in decisions about their treatment, almost a third (32%) are unaware that these cancers can be tested to determine which treatment could be most suitable for them.1 The survey findings were highlighted in the official ESMO press program.

Dr Harpreet Wasan, Consultant Medical Oncologist commented, “The findings of this study highlight the need for us to better educate our patients about personalised medicines. These medicines enable us to tailor treatment based on biomarker results so that patients have the best chance of prolonging life. We need to get better at informing patients about their options so that they can be more involved in their treatment decisions.”

Almost three quarters (73%) of metastatic bowel cancer patients would be willing to undergo a re-biopsy if necessary in order to test for KRAS status.1 Patients also say they would be willing to delay the start of their treatment to benefit from a targeted therapy, even if that meant undergoing a tumor re-biopsy.1

Dr Harpreet Wasan, Consultant Medical Oncologist commented, “In practice, bowel cancer patients are often treated with a non-personalised treatment until their KRAS test results are available but these results show that many patients would prefer to wait for the test results to make sure of the most suitable treatment for them. This study highlights that we need to listen to our patients more and take their opinions into consideration when making treatment decisions.”

Up to 60% of patients who develop metastatic bowel cancer have the KRAS wild-type gene2,3 and studies have shown that these patients may benefit from treatment with EGFR receptor inhibitors, such as Erbitux (cetuximab). The remaining 40% of patients have the mutant version of the gene and do not benefit from EGFR receptor inhibitors. In September 2011 Merck Serono announced that the company would fully fund KRAS biomarker testing for all UK patients diagnosed with bowel cancer. In the twelve months from September 2011 to August 2012, Merck Serono has funded 7,767 tests in the UK, saving the NHS over £900,000.4

The study results also showed that only 56% of patients with metastatic bowel cancer had been tested to identify which treatment might work best for them compared to 68% of patients with lung cancer and 77% of patients with breast cancer.1

“KRAS testing and other biomarker tests can be beneficial in the management of patients, and it would be useful to have these tests conducted as early as possible,” said Professor Sabine Tejpar, Digestive Oncology Unit, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium, and lead study author. “However, this new survey shows that patients with metastatic bowel cancer are less likely to be given a biomarker test and a targeted therapy at diagnosis than those with other cancers. This can lead to suboptimal treatment and unnecessary additional investigations, including re-biopsy, before an appropriate 1st-line targeted therapy is given.”
Personalised medicine means matching features that may be specific to a patient’s cancer with the treatment that may work best for them. This approach recognises that no two cancers are the same and that even patients with the same cancer may respond differently to treatment. Leading cancer charities have stated that personalised medicine has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of people with cancer.5

Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer and around 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.6

The multinational survey was sponsored by Merck Serono and carried out by the market research agency, Ipsos MORI.1 The study was conducted in 811 patients across seven countries (UK, 105; Argentina, 141; China, 143; France, 105; Germany, 105; Italy, 105; Spain, 107).1 Of the 811 patients, 164 had breast cancer, 157 had non-small cell lung cancer and 490 has metastatic bowel cancer.1

1. Tejpar S, et al. ESMO 2012 Congress; ESMO ID 1382P
2. Van Cutsem E, et al. Cetuximab and Chemotherapy as Initial Treatment for Metastatic Colorectal Cancer. N Engl J Med 2009;360:1408-17
3. Bokemeyer C, et al. Fluorouracil, Leucovorin, and Oxaliplatin With and Without Cetuximab in the First-Line Treatment of Metastatic Colorectal Cancer. J Clin Oncol 2009;27:663-71
4. Data on file, Merck Serono
5. Cancer Research UK. Progress towards personalised medicine. Available at: Accessed September 2012
6. Beating Bowel Cancer. Bowel cancer facts and figures. Available at: Accessed September 2012

Editor's Details

Merck Serono

Last updated on: 02/10/2012

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