Although we are all lumped into the single category of human beings, each of us have attributes that make us unique. It therefore stands to reason that when we become ill, one treatment regimen may not fit all, and researchers are increasingly becoming aware of this concept.
It was against this backdrop that Precision Medicine was conceptualized.
Like a number of international medical facilities, the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) (www.cancer.gov) has been taking the lead in embracing 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. But according to the NCI, after decades of research, scientists now understand that patients’ tumors 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 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.
NCI says that it is engaged in research studies to test if 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.
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 an individual’s tumor can help decide which treatment will work best for you.
Researchers have not yet discovered all the genetic changes that can cause cancer to develop, grow, and spread. But, they are making progress and discovering new changes every day. According to NCI, once genetic changes are discovered, another active area of research involves looking for drugs that can target these changes, then testing these drugs with people in clinical trials with a view of having them incorporated into unique treatment regimen.