The importance of the extraordinary

One-in-two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85, and an estimated 145,000 new cancer diagnoses are expected in 2019. It is our nation’s leading cause of death, and while survival rates continue to improve with advances in treatment, there is still much to be learned about how individual responses to treatment.

When patients undergo any given cancer treatment, the majority will respond to this treatment in a similar way. However, some patients have an unexpectedly positive response, resulting in much better outcomes than the majority.

An opinion piece recently published in Nature Reviews Cancer highlighted the importance of identifying these patients with extraordinary responses, and investigating why their response was so positive.  

An extraordinary response is generally considered to be one that is unusually or unexpectedly effective or lasts for at least three times longer than anticipated. 

However, defining these cases is by no means black and white, and there are many factors to consider when distinguishing these extraordinary patients from ‘typical’ patients. These include, but are not limited to, potential misdiagnoses and unique combinations of risk factors for developing cancer in the first place, and these all need to be accounted for.

Identifying the reasons why these patients respond in such an extraordinary way may offer unique opportunities to harness the molecular, immunological and epidemiological factors behind the positive response, and use this to improve outcomes for the remaining majority of patients, who display a ‘typical’ response.

This further highlights the increasing focus on individualised therapies seen across many therapeutic areas and demonstrates our evolving understanding of how genetic differences in people and their diseases can inform more targeted treatments, and continue to improve patient outcomes.