Personalised Medicine in Cancer
How is Cancer generally treated?
The treatment for cancer depends mainly on the type of Cancer that is present. The type of Cancer would mean the primary organ the Cancer has started in, and the type of cell in the organ that has become a Cancer. Treatment strategies are made based on the type of Cancer, the stage of Cancer at the time of diagnosis or planned treatment and the general fitness of the patient.
Once all these are determined, a treatment option is discussed with the patient. For example, in a patient with breast cancer of the same type and stage and similar fitness, the treatment option will be the same. If Chemotherapy is the option, the same combination of drugs are given.
What is Personalised Medicine in Cancer?
In personalised medicine, the treatment for Cancer is still dependent on the type, stage and fitness but also other factors that are specific to the Cancer in that patient. More tests are done on the Cancer to look for genetic changes such as mutations in it and this information can help to tailor treatment to each patient. This can enable the Cancer treatment to work better and reduce side effects.
Can all Cancers be treated this way?
Personalised medicine is not available as an option in all Cancers. Common cancers where this option exists include Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Colon and Rectal Cancer, Leukaemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma, Kidney Cancer and skin Cancer such as Melanoma. This branch is advancing rapidly and more Cancers may be treated by this fashion in the future.
What about Personalised Medicine in Screening and Prevention of Cancer?
In patients with a strong family history of Cancer, there are genetic tests that can be done to determine the risk of an individual getting a Cancer in the future. This feature is limited to only a small minority of the population and is not a general recommendation. For everyone else, standard screening tests are useful. See the section on screening for cancer for more information.
What are Circulating Tumour Cells? (CTC) or circulating tumour DNA?
Nowadays, with the help of technology, there is a possibility of looking for Cancer by taking a sample of blood. This is mainly done in patients who have already had treatment for Cancer and in remission. If cancers cells are found circulating in the blood, it may predict for a recurrence of Cancer in the future.
However, apart from giving such information about the risk of recurrence in the future, they do not have a role in deciding on treatment. Hence their role is limited and not routinely done.