Personalized therapy for cancer: New hope for patients

September 20, 2013 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn

For decades, certain cancers were difficult or impossible to battle, meaning that patients frequently lived only months after diagnosis. A recent Wall Street Journal article and video  highlights the significant progress that’s being made in developing drugs that target the specific genetic mutations linked to the development of certain cancers and the impact this is having on patients, their families, and the field of cancer treatment.

Known as precision medicine or personalized therapy, a number of studies have shown that these targeted treatments can be more effective than standard chemotherapy. The Wall Street Journal article cites an encouraging statistic published in a June 2013 study of lung cancer patients—those treated with drugs that targeted the specific genetic type of tumor lived 1.4 years longer than patients on chemotherapy whose tumor’s genetic makeup had not been identified. While these personalized therapies for lung, colon, breast, and a several other cancers are not a cure for the disease, they are often able to extend the patient’s life beyond what radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery alone can achieve.

Many cancer patients do not yet have the benefit of personalized therapy for a number of reasons:

  • Their physician does not have experience or expertise in this developing field
  • They receive treatment from a physician or at a healthcare center that does not have access to the technology used to identify the genetic makeup of their tumor
  • They cannot find a clinical trial for the personalized therapy, since many of the drugs are still in the process of development and FDA approval