The BC Cancer Agency announced today that researchers have made a significant discovery about a rare form of childhood cancer.
Sarcomas are malignant tumors that occur in connective tissues such as the bones and muscles. One of the disease’s most famous victims was Terry Fox, who was diagnosed and eventually died from an osteosarcoma.
Dr. Poul Sorensen, a professor in the Department of Pathology at UBC and researcher with the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA), says the breakthrough is long overdue.
“We’re pretty excited about it because these tumor…haven’t really had major improvements in outcome for probably 20 years. One of the reasons for that is we don’t understand why they spread to other organs and that’s what kills the patients.”
According to the BCCA, Dr. Sorensen and his team have discovered a previously unknown growth pathway exploited by sarcomas to grow and spread through the body. Dr. Sorensen says that, up until now, most treatments have targeted so-called primary tumors – the original site of the cancer. He says that understanding how sarcomas spread to other tissues could lead to more effective therapies.
“Once you know that, you can jump in and try to treat the spread.”
After five years of work, Dr. Sorensen says he and his team hope their findings have far-reaching consequences.
“This is also relevant, we think, to breast cancer and prostate carcinoma and other adult cancers.”
However, he cautions that, while the findings may point the way to new treatment possibilities, it could be a while before any new therapies make their way into hospitals.
“We’re not going to be able to change treatment tomorrow. We’re very aware that we need to get this to the bedside. We need to get this information to the clinic.”
A team effort
Dr. Sorensen says he and his team members were supported by an extensive, international network, including participants from France and the US.
“These diseases are extremely complicated and you need a fantastic team with many different talents and networks.”
Sorensen says that willingness among researchers to share information, instead of being possessive of their discoveries, is key to accelerating the discovery of new treatments.
“We realize that we need to do this as team science. It’s really time for us to put away our egos and try to do something that…gets back to the bedside. That’s really what we’re trying to do.”
He’s optimistic about his team’s discovery and its potential for changing the outcomes of sarcoma diagnoses.
“It’s been 20 years without progress in metastatic sarcoma outcomes and it’s time for us to do better – for the patients, for the families and for the society that carries the burden for these diagnoses.”