Significant ‘Knowledge Gap’ Exists in Use of Genetic Testing to Decide Cancer Treatment

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Karen Teber

CHICAGO (May 30, 2019) — A questionnaire aimed at assessing how well community oncologists understand “molecular profiling” results from tumor specimens found that 69 percent of participants either said they don’t know the answers, or they responded incorrectly. In six different clinical scenarios, the oncologists were asked to match a genetic alteration to the targeted therapy designed to attack those cancer-causing aberrations — information that is key to effective personalized treatment.

The results of the survey, taken at several case-based research events by 292 community oncologists who were either based in hospitals or private clinics, are being presented Saturday, June 1, at the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago. Investigators at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted the study.

Researchers also found that community-based oncologists use molecular profiling far less frequently than do academic-based oncologists (59 of whom were polled on use of these tests). For example, community oncologists say they use this service in 33 percent of lung cancer cases they treat whereas academic oncologists use these tests in 74 percent of their lung cancer patients. The results from molecular testing help determine what treatment should be used and if patients may be candidates for clinical trial enrollment.

“Molecular profiling to direct targeted therapy has moved very quickly from the laboratory to the clinic, and this study shows that oncologists urgently need to be educated about this potential therapeutic strategy,” says Bhavana Singh, MD, MSc, a fellow at Georgetown Lombardi’s clinical partner, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

“This is a significant knowledge and practice gap, not an issue of negligent treatment,” she says, adding that while genetic testing has been available for a number of years, the two comprehensive molecular profiling tests now on the market were only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2017. Both test for up to 500 genetic mutations, deletions, copy number variations and rearrangements for which targeted and immune therapies are approved, or are under testing and expected to be approved.

The study is part of a larger body of research conducted by Singh and John L Marshall, MD, the study’s senior investigator, which aims to look at trends in use of molecular profiling globally.

“Use of these tests in many malignancies is standard of care, and our goal is to help oncologists think about how molecular profiling links to the targeted therapy that can help their patients,” Singh says.

“The rapid expansion of knowledge is outpacing our ability to incorporate it into our daily clinical practice, even for experts in a field. We must ensure that we bridge this gap so all patients may reap the benefits of our progress,” says Marshall, chief of the oncology division at MedStar Georgetown and director of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer at Georgetown Lombardi.

Co-authors of the study include Jan Blancato, PhD, and Preta Pins, PhD, from Georgetown; Chao Yin, MD, a MedStar Georgetown resident; and Susan Britton, RN, Brynn Tiscione, Arden Buettner, Joanne Willey, RN, Maria Lankford and Mitch Scharf from Xcenda, an outcomes research firm.

There was no outside funding for this study.

Singh reports having no personal financial interests related to the study. Marshall served on the advisory board for Caris Life Sciences, Inc., and in 2018 served as the company’s interim CMO.

About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a comprehensive cancer center. A part of Georgetown University Medical Center, Georgetown Lombardi is the only comprehensive cancer center in the Washington, D.C., area. It serves as the research engine for MedStar Health, Georgetown University’s clinical partner. Georgetown Lombardi is also an NCI recognized consortium with John Theurer Cancer Center/Hackensack Meridian Health in Bergen County, N.J. The consortium reflects an integrated cancer research enterprise with scientists and clinicians from both locations. Georgetown Lombardi seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic, translational and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach to service communities throughout the Washington region, while its consortium member John Theurer Cancer Center/Hackensack Meridian Health serves communities in northern New Jersey. Georgetown Lombardi is supported in part by a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant (P30CA051008). Connect with Georgetown Lombardi on Facebook ( ) and Twitter (@LombardiCancer ).

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic health and science center with a four-part mission of research, teaching, service and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. Connect with GUMC on Facebook ( ) and Twitter (@gumedcenter ).