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Precision Medicine

Precision medicine in cancer treatment, or precision oncology, is also called “personalized medicine” and is a rapidly evolving approach to cancer treatment and prevention that allows physicians to select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease.

Precision medicine is a type of targeted therapy that uses information about genetic changes in the tumor, also known as molecular profile of the tumor, to help decide which treatment will work best for an individual with cancer.

This treatment is more precise because it is tailored to the distinct genetic changes of each individual cancer, rather than focusing on the type of cancer (e.g., lung cancer versus breast cancer), tumor size, or whether it has spread. Research has shown that changes that occur in one individual’s cancer may not occur in others who have the same type of cancer.

Also, the same cancer-causing genetic changes may be found in different types of cancer. As a result, patients with tumors that share the same genetic change receive the drug that targets that change, regardless of the type of cancer.

With the rapid evolution in technology, genetic changes in the tumor are being identified in tumor samples (tissue biopsy), and in blood samples (liquid biopsy) of individuals with cancer. Special labs with equipment to sequence the DNA perform what are called genomic testing, molecular profiling, or tumor profiling.

While all genetic changes that can cause cancer to develop, grow, and spread have not yet been discovered, significant progress is being made every day. As specific genetic changes are discovered, new drugs are being developed and treatments are being designed to target these genetic changes in tumors. Many of these new treatments are being tested in clinical trials.

Precision oncology is not yet part of routine care for most patients. With more research into genetic changes that drive cancer cells to divide and grow, more patients in the future will be able to receive customized cancer treatments.