Precision Medicine in Cancer Treatment

Precision Medicine in Cancer Treatment

Using the genetic changes in a patient’s tumour to determine their treatment is known as precision medicine.

Precision medicine is an approach to patient care that allows doctors to select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease. This may also be called personalized medicine. The idea of precision medicine is not new, but recent advances in science and technology have helped speed up the pace of this area of research.

Today, when you are diagnosed with cancer, you usually receive the same treatment as others who have same type and stage of cancer. Even so, different people may respond differently, and, until recently, doctors didn’t know why. After decades of research, scientists now understand that patients’ tumours have genetic changes that cause cancer to grow and spread. They have also learned that the changes that occur in one person’s cancer may not occur in others who have the same type of cancer. And, the same cancer-causing changes may be found in different types of cancer.

The Promise of Precision Medicine

The hope of precision medicine is that treatments will one day be tailored to the genetic changes in each person’s cancer. Scientists see a future when genetic tests will help decide which treatments a patient’s tumor is most likely to respond to, sparing the patient from receiving treatments that are not likely to help. Research studies are going on now to test whether treating patients with treatments that target the cancer-causing genetic changes in their tumors, no matter where the cancer develops in the body, will help them. Many of these treatments are drugs known as targeted therapies. Our section on Targeted Therapy has more information about these drugs.

Currently, if you need treatment for cancer, you may receive a combination of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. Which treatments you receive usually will depend on the type of cancer, its size, and whether it has spread. With precision medicine, information about genetic changes in your tumor can help decide which treatment will work best for you.

There are drugs that have been proven effective against cancers with specific genetic changes and are approved by the FDA. Many of these drugs are discussed in Targeted Cancer Therapies. Approved treatments should be available wherever you have cancer treatment.

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