Moving Target: Why a Cancer 'Cure' Is So Elusive

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For example, the study found that different mutations affected the same genes throughout the tumor. Understanding and maybe even being able to predict these changes could serve as a new target for treatment.

"It seems tumors depend upon these special changes to keep living and growing and we need to be smart about targeting these key changes," said Dr. Lisa Diller of Harvard Medical School in Boston. "We need to define the beating heart of a tumor and figure out how to aim our drugs straight at it."

Some changes might come even sooner. Knowing what they know now, physicians might be more likely to sample multiple places on the same tumor or places in the body where the cancer has spread to get a better idea of how to treat the patient.

Whether this approach will help doctors successfully treat more cancer than they do today remains to be seen. But the new study offer hope that there is more research to be done, research that could mean more patients with stories like that of Carla Leslie.

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