With genomics, cancer treatments just got personal

New technology has led oncologists and cancer researchers to the building blocks of cells — DNA — to find the best treatment for patients.

Traditional cancer treatments — surgery, chemotherapy, drugs, radiation — have been typically viewed as one treatment fits all. Results have been mixed, and what’s considered successful is often wildly and tragically varied.

Medical professionals and researchers are now looking to a more customized option for cancer patients, one that is led by each patient's DNA.

New technology now allows doctors to sequence an individual's DNA, and to examine the genome of a patient's diseased cells. This study is called "cancer genomics," and cancer research centers across the country are heavily involved in creating catalogs of sequencing of specific cancers for doctors to reference in patients' treatment plans.

At the end of 2012, the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute  began funding programs that educate doctors in use of patient's genomic information, according to Bloomberg.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the data gleaned from this research has already spurred development and use of new cancer treatments for chronic myelogenous leukemia, and breast, lung and colon cancers that exhibit particular mutations.

Beyond the larger studies, however, when individual patients have their cancer cells sequenced, a doctor can investigate if chosen treatments are actually working to stop the disease in its tracks. If a patient's tumors show abnormalities in the DNA for a particular cancer, treatment can be immediately targeted to the abnormalities, instead of going the course that is typical for that cancer.

More good news is that as this type of treatment becomes more common, the price tag also becomes more reasonable (about $1,000 per sequencing), although it is often not covered by insurance.


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