Cancers often tend to be fueled by changes in genes, or mutations, that make cells grow and spread to other parts of the body. There are now an increasing number of drugs that block mutations in cancer genes and can halt a tumor’s growth.
While such an approach has worked in a few isolated cases, those cases cannot reveal whether other patients with the same mutation would have a similar experience.
Now, medical facilities are starting coordinated efforts to find answers. And this spring, a federally funded national program will start to screen tumors in thousands of patients to see which might be attacked by any of at least a dozen new drugs. Those whose tumors have mutations that can be attacked will be given the drugs. The studies of this new method, called basket studies because they lump together different kinds of cancer, are revolutionary, much smaller than the usual studies, and without control groups of patients who for comparison’s sake receive standard treatment.