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Personalized medicine holds promise for cancer patients

Three years ago, Ivette Giancola started having abdominal and back pain. She went to the doctor and tests revealed that the then 37-year-old-mother had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

"You hear the word 'metastasized' and it's very, very scary," she told CBS News. "I was not sure I was going to make it."

She underwent two years of aggressive treatments before doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center told her the genetic mutation in her tumor made her a good candidate for a new study delivering personalized medicine to cancer patients.

"You're able to select patients appropriately based on the genetics in their tumor and give them an effective therapy," said Dr. David Hyman, Acting Director of Developmental Therapeutics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The first-of-its-kind study was designed to explore responses to drugs based on the specific mutations in patients' tumors, rather than where in the body their cancer originated. The approach, called a "basket study," combines patients with different cancers into same group for research.

The researchers found success in treating different types of cancers, including ovarian, lung and colorectal cancers, using a melanoma drug that targets the mutation.

Results were published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers say this is just the first in what's expected to be a wave of studies using this new design model. "While we can -- and should -- be cautiously optimistic, this is what the future of precision medicine looks like," lead study author José Baselga, Memorial Sloan Kettering's Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer, said in a statement.

As for Giancola, two months after starting the study, her tumors shrunk 25 percent. "I feel very lucky," she said. "I'm very blessed. I didn't know if I was going to make it three years."

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    Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com