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EMBRACING PRECISION MEDICINE, A TRAILBLAZING PATH FORWARD IN CANCER TREATMENT

Publication: The Pittsburg Gazette

Unlocking the genetic “secrets” inside cancer cells is revolutionizing oncology. This advancement in medical science is the foundation of precision medicine which provides patients with more personalized and targeted treatment, based on understanding the genetic information of a patient’s cancer. This is especially relevant for Texans who will soon have increased access to the testing needed for precision medicine treatment planning.

Unlike traditional cancer treatments that take a more generalized approach, precision medicine leverages the genetic insights obtained from specialized testing of a patient’s tumor, known as next generation sequencing or biomarker testing. Every person’s cancer has a unique genetic makeup, including certain cancer biomarkers, which are the genes and proteins on cancer cells. These biomarkers can be tested to learn important details about a specific patient’s cancer. By analyzing the genetic changes within the tumor, physicians can determine the most effective course of action for each individual patient.

A Closer Look at Precision Medicine

One of the remarkable facets of precision medicine is that is transcends the typical focus on cancer types. Regardless of whether the patient’s disease originated as breast cancer, lung cancer, sarcoma, or melanoma, similar cancer-causing genetic changes can be identified across different forms of cancer. Patients who have tumors with common genetic alterations can benefit from treatments that target those shared changes.

Every year, the field of precision medicine makes substantial strides as researchers continue to unearth genetic variations, prompting the development of new drugs and treatments that home in on changes within tumors. This progress is then integrated into clinical practice, potentially influencing the criteria for clinical trials and treatment protocols.

Applying Precision Medicine to Oncology Care Through Biomarker Testing

Biomarker testing is the cornerstone of how precision medicine is applied in oncology care, and it is integral to developing personalized therapies.

Even with the same type of cancer, cells can have different gene mutations, which may determine how effectively the cancer responds to certain types of treatment. When a specific biomarker is identified, more effective, targeted therapies can be given to attack those cancer cells.

As technology advances, biomarker testing will become more specific. Physicians may be able to diagnose cancer and check for specific biomarkers from a blood sample without the need for a biopsy. Additionally, biomarkers will increasingly be used to:

  • Determine a person's risk of developing cancer in the future.

  • Find cancer at an early stage.

  • See if treatment for cancer is effective.

  • Check if a patient’s cancer has returned.

Biomarker testing is even more important in patients with advanced disease who have fewer therapeutic options. This approach empowers physicians and patients to make informed decisions, leading to improved outcomes and reduced healthcare expenses.

The Expansion of Biomarker Testing in Texas

A new law took effect on Sept. 1, 2023, that expands access to biomarker testing in Texas to help connect cancer patients with therapies that are more targeted and effective, especially in cases of advanced disease.

Senate Bill 989 was signed into law on May 30, making Texas the 11th state to expand access to biomarker testing. It requires health insurance companies to cover biomarker testing, removing a major barrier for patients, who had to cover the cost of these tests out of pocket.

The new law requires coverage of biomarker testing in health benefit plans delivered, issued for delivery, or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024. When Texans begin open enrollment for 2024, this bill ensures that public and private health insurers will cover the cost of biomarker testing for patients with cancer and other rare diseases.

With the passing of this bill and as precision medicine continues to evolve, more patients across Texas will have the opportunity to access this personalized, targeted, and effective treatment for their fight against cancer.

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