Targeted treatment trial offers hope for patients with 'hidden' cancer

Press release posted 14 November 2023

Chris Russell, a 55-year-old father-of-4 from Mayfield in Derbyshire, is doing well after a year of trialling a targeted therapy for cancer of the unknown primary (CUP).

He was diagnosed with CUP in early 2022 after nearly a year of specialists trying to find out what was wrong with him. He had initially gone to see his doctor after finding a lump on his shoulder. After many tests and investigations, he was told the lump was a secondary tumour, meaning that the cancer had spread from where it first originated.

As they couldn’t find the primary tumour, the team at his local hospital told him that chemotherapy designed to treat a broad range of cancers was his only option, but they didn’t know whether it would work. There are no approved immunotherapies or targeted treatments for CUP outside of clinical trials.

Chris was referred to The Christie where he was matched with a personalised treatment as part of the CUPISCO trial. The aim of this is to understand whether personalised treatment options, with either targeted treatments or immunotherapy, can improve outcomes for certain CUP patients. He has been on the trial for a year and is doing well.

436 people who had at least one of three doses of chemotherapy, and whose CUP did not get worse, were involved in the trial. Of these, 326 people, including Chris, received molecular-targeted therapy after genetic profiling.

According to the results, which were recently presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology conference in late October, those on personalised treatment had an average of 6.1 months of “progression-free survival” compared to an average of 4.4 months among those who received standard care.

Dr Natalie Cook, consultant medical oncologist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and principal investigator of the trial, comments: “The CUPISCO results are very encouraging and show that we must ensure our patients have access to comprehensive genomic testing and molecular-targeted treatments where a match is found. This will hopefully increase treatment options in the future, leading to better prognosis and outcomes in people diagnosed with CUP.”

“I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to take part in the trial,” comments Chris. “It’s given me a second chance at life when I thought I might not have one. I’m enjoying doing everyday things like going on holiday and taking my son to watch the football. I really can’t thank the team at The Christie enough.

"The results of the study are encouraging and behind those numbers are people like me being given more time. I’m proud to be taking part in research because I know I’m helping other people like me in the future.” 

Any patients interested in taking part in clinical trials should discuss this option with their consultant or GP. Not all patients will fit the criteria for a specific trial. While clinical trials can be successful for some patients, outcomes can vary from case to case.

Last updated: November 2023