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understanding precision medicine

since chemotherapy was introduced in the 1940, cancers have been treated according to the organ or tissue where the cancer has originated [eg. lung or breast cancer]. in precision medicine, sometimes referred to as precision oncology when dealing specifically with cancer, the focus is on the genetic profile of the cancer cells. moving away from a one size fits all approach to a more personalized approach to treating cancer. 

clinicians have long recognized that the same disease behaves differently from one person to another. in oncology, precision medicine uses specific information about a person’s tumour [the genetic profile of the cancer cells] to help make a diagnosis, plan treatment, find out how well treatment is working, or make a prognosis. 

the genetic profile of cancer cells [sometimes referred to as genetic mutations, mutations, biomarkers, driver mutations, or actionable alterations, molecular markers] is tested through genomic testing [also known as comprehensive genomic profiling, next generation sequencing, molecular profiling, tumour profiling]. genetic mutations can be found across different tumour types, so rather than treating a person with cancer based on the location of the tumour, clinicians will treat based on the mutations found within the cancer cells – if any exist. this means that a person with colorectal cancer and a person with lung cancer may have some of the same characteristics in their tumour. and when a targeted therapy is available, a more personalized approach to treatment. 

currently in oncology, precision medicine is being used in

  1. colorectal cancer

  2. breast cancer

  3. lung cancer

  4. certain types of leukemia

  5. certain types of lymphoma

  6. melanoma

  7. esophageal cancer

  8. stomach cancer

  9. bladder cancer

  10. thyroid cancer

  11. prostate cancer

  12. certain gastric cancers 

  13. pancreatic cancer

  14. cancers of unknown primary

precision medicine is an exciting and relatively new area in cancer research and treatment with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes. however, in order to reach this goal, of making precision oncology a standard of care and of improving patient outcomes – genomic testing must be made available for people living with cancer across canada, whether they are in an academic hospital in a big city or a community hospital.

throughout the month of november, follow us on social media @cancercolab @coloncanada and @lymphomacanada and visit to learn more about precision medicine and what that means for you. 

read more about precision medicine here


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