The carpet-bombing style of cancer treatment is being replaced by smart medicines that target specific genes with patient-specific drugs.
A team of Sydney doctors and scientists are working on a project that makes unprecedentedly accurate diagnoses they hope will more than double the number of patients who can be helped with new smart drugs.
"We are looking at DNA changes in a patient's tumours to see what drug they can be given to specifically target that change," says pathologist Associate Professor Sandra O'Toole, a member of the team at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
Smart drugs, which have been used successfully against breast cancer, are showing promising results for melanoma, lung cancer and colon cancer, she says.
"What we do is look for the specific gene or genes that the cancer relies on and use targeted treatments to shut them down," she told AAP on Monday.
"As a result, we are currently seeing stunning results for some cancer patients, although many patients eventually become resistant to the new treatment."
It is thought about half of Australia's patients with the most common types of cancer could eventually benefit.
Conventional genetic testing is focused on a specific gene and usually fails to pinpoint the cause of the cancer. "What we are doing is looking at lots of genes at one time on one sample.
"We look at 238 mutations in 19 genes, so we have a much bigger chance of finding a treatable gene."
"Smart drugs tend to have fewer side effects than chemotherapy because they are targeted," Prof O'Toole says.
"Mostly patients take the drugs by mouth and for significant periods have really good results."
The team has so far tested 500 patients.
"It is a very exciting time to be in this area of medicine, particularly for melanoma, lung, colon and breast cancer."