Cancer is a genetic disease, and genes are composed of DNA, one of life’s building blocks. Genes create various proteins within a cell that regulate cell behavior. When there is an unnatural change, or mutation, in a gene, it affects protein function or creation. This mutation can cause the cell to reproduce rapidly. The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as “a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.” Personalized cancer care treatments seek to destroy only the cells containing the mutant gene and its malfunctioning protein.
What Is Personalized Cancer Care?
In the past, scientists believed that cancers differed across categories, such as lung, breast, and liver, but were similar within the individual category. Now we know that each type has many possible subtypes, depending on which protein or gene type is affected. So, it is no longer a one-treatment-fits-all plan for many patients. Suppose you have cancer, and the test results indicate the presence of one or more aberrant proteins or a known detrimental type of gene for which a specific treatment is available. In that case, you may benefit from a targeted approach.
How Is Personalized Medicine Changing Cancer Care?
Telling a cancer patient to “never give up because a new treatment might be right around the corner” is more apt to be true now than ever. Researchers work hard searching for abnormalities in bloodwork that might pinpoint an as-yet unidentified causative factor in a patient’s cancer. Once that is identified, labs create tests to detect it in blood samples, and researchers develop drugs to eradicate it. Some medicines may take years before FA approval, so ask your doctor if you can participate in a clinical trial.
How Is Personalized Cancer Care Different From Other Treatments?
Customized medicine targets know abnormalities in your cancer’s DNA code. If different genes and proteins are involved, you may receive a cocktail of drugs. Your healthcare team may slowly add additional pharmaceuticals to your daily regime and access the ongoing efficacy and side effects after each new one. Because your cancer’s DNA is unique, the team creates a personal medicine plan that’s right for you. Genes also react to the environment, which results in different effects among similar patients, so constant monitoring is a critical part of the plan. It’s not easy, but unlike other treatments, you may have an entire team working on your behalf. In addition, because it is a targeted approach, you may suffer fewer side effects than you would with a traditional treatment plan.
How Does Personalized Cancer Treatment Work?
The first step toward receiving a personalized treatment plan is blood work, urinalysis, medical scans, and a biopsy. Once the doctors know what they’re working with, they’ll develop a course of action. If known cancer targets appear in your tests, the doctors will administer and monitor an appropriate personal medicine chemotherapy treatment plan created just for you.
Will Personalized Cancer Treatment Work for Me?
Personalized treatment plans don’t always work, and that’s part of the mystery surrounding cancer. However, research is constantly pushing the boundaries with some great results. There are a large number of known DNA abnormalities throughout the body that respond well to targeted chemotherapy. Here are three common cancers with identified genetic mutations.
For example, we now know of two different treatable targets that cause lung cancer. One is the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is on the surface of cells and helps them grow and reproduce. EGFR mutations appear to cause cancer. This genetic change is detectable and treatable.
Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)is another gene in which mutations appear to lead to lung cancer. Doctors may treat these instances with the same or different drugs as EGFR mutations.
One type of breast cancer, known as estrogen receptor (ER) positive cancer, is linked to the presence of an estrogen hormone receptor. Tamoxifen is a drug that works by blocking this receptor, preventing the cell from multiplying.
BRAF is a gene that is associated with some types of melanomas. There are targeted treatments that weaken or inactivate this gene if you test BRAF-positive.
What Can You Look Forward to in the Future?
Unless you are an identical twin, your genetic makeup differs from every other person, living or dead. That means every person’s cancer has its genetic makeup as well. This uniqueness is a challenge for researchers and pharmaceutical companies. However, as scientists continue to unlock cancer’s dark secrets, every day brings more hope that we will eventually conquer this devastating disease.