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Washington University finds pretesting cervical tumors could inform treatment outcome

Before treatment, left, a cervical tumor is visible (white arrow) on a PET/CT scan. After successful treatment, right, the tumor is no longer visible. For reasons that are not well understood, some patients’ tumors do not respond to therapy. Testing the tumor before treatment for vulnerability to chemotherapy predicts which patients will do well or poorly with standard treatment.

Doctors at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that testing cervical tumors before treatment for vulnerability to chemotherapy predicts whether patients will do well or poorly with standard treatment. The study supports the future possibility of personalized medicine for cervical cancer, a tumor normally addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Even though this is a small study, its strength is that it links a lab test of the tumor’s chemotherapy response to survival outcomes for the patients,” said Julie K. Schwarz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology. “Very few cancers have been studied this way, and this is the first such report for cervical cancer.”

“We believe that radiation does the majority of the work with cervical cancer,” said Schwarz, who treats patients at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “But a randomized trial published in 1999 showed that combining it with cisplatin chemotherapy improved survival outcomes.”

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