Precision medicine: Patient-specific cancer treatment

March 18, 2024

Scientist looking in microscope

With precision medicine, some advanced cancer treatment options today is more precise with fewer side effects.

In the past, when a patient was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer, doctors were left to deliver a prognosis with limited treatment options. Precision medicine means patients today face more treatment options than ever –– even for advanced stages of cancer.

Precision medicine can be called by other names, including:

  • Personalized medicine
  • Precision oncology
  • Targeted therapy
  • Genomic medicine

With precision medicine, researchers can identify the molecular fingerprints of cancer cells. Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, your physician can tailor treatment to reflect your specific cancer mutation together with your genetic makeup, environmental influences and even lifestyle factors. Patients with the same cancer may have completely different treatments based on what’s most likely to be effective for a specific tumor.

“The identification of these molecular targets through this comprehensive tumor genomic profiling has led to a significant improvement in survival, as well as the response rates and overall outcomes,” says Muhammad Masab, MD, a medical oncologist with the Riverside Cancer Care Network.

Precision medicine is now a common treatment option for lung, colorectal and breast cancers. Oncology patients today routinely undergo molecular testing as a part of their early diagnostic workup. This allows your physician to select individualized treatments that have shown remarkable improvements in patient outcomes while minimizing harmful or uncomfortable side effects.

In some cases, patients can simply take oral precision medication from home. “We’re seeing patients maintain a decent performance status and able to perform activities of daily living without any limitations,” says Dr. Masab.

Targeted therapy may be combined with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Benefits of precision medicine

Precision medicine can be used in other areas of medicine, but it has led to various new, powerful treatment regimens in oncology, in particular.

Unlike DNA ancestry testing, which has become so common, genetic testing in oncology focuses on the actual tumor cell’s genetic makeup. Cancer experts can test a tissue sample from a tumor or any tumor DNA that sheds into the blood. Blood or plasma-based molecular testing has a rapid turnaround time, typically 7-10 days. Tissue testing can take up to 2-3 weeks.

Based on the cancer cell mutations identified in the lab results, your doctor can put together a treatment plan that’s most likely to be effective. There are two types of precision medicine treatment:

  1. Immunotherapy: Empowers your body's own immune system to fight cancer.
  2. Targeted drug therapy: Drugs designed to attack a particular target on a cancer cell.

You may need to repeat molecular testing if your cancer progresses. This is because some cancer mutations can evolve. A particular mutation may not be present at the time of diagnosis but come up later throughout the natural course of the disease. This may make a new drug or clinical trial available for you.

Once a lab test reveals the molecular mutation in a tumor cell, your oncologist can select a treatment drug that specifically targets that mutation. Many treatments are FDA-approved, with more emerging therapies available every year. Others are still in the clinical trial stage.

More targeted therapeutic drugs are being developed for cancer every year.

While there remains a lot to learn about precision medicine, targeted therapies for cancer are emerging at an unprecedented rate. In the past three years alone, more precision medicine drugs for cancer have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For patients with advanced-stage cancer, new targeted therapies are providing patients with more effective treatment options that improve their quality of life and have less toxicity.

The rapid development of these drugs means that eligible patients can also participate in clinical trials. This is especially true for patients who progress through multiple lines of therapy.

For a full list of clinical trials at Riverside, click here.

Better outcomes achieved by combining precision medicine with collaborative care.

Whether or not precision medicine is right for your particular type of cancer, the best outcomes for cancer care come from a multidisciplinary team of experts who work together to support patients and discuss their treatment. This team includes a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, radiologist and pathologist. Incorporating a well-structured multidisciplinary team can lead to faster, more efficient care and improved outcomes.

Patients at Riverside have access to the latest cancer treatment from a collaborative team of providers. “Cancer diagnosis is a scary diagnosis, but we always try our best to offer the most effective and the least toxic treatment to our patients. And that's what precision oncology is,” says Dr. Masab.

To learn more about the Riverside Cancer Care Network click here.

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