Understanding the Role of Personalized Medicine

Growing knowledge about the genetic makeup of tumors is leading to a revolution in cancer treatment.

Through research, more effective tailored cancer treatments are now available. This means that we are beginning to move away from the use of “one-size-fits-all” chemotherapy and toward the use of targeted drugs designed for specific patients and tumors––that is, personalized medicine.

For many years, doctors knew that certain groups of people benefited from certain types of treatments. For example, older women with breast cancer tended to benefit more from hormone treatments than younger women with breast cancer. But in recent years, scientists discovered that not all cancers are alike. There are variations of each type of tumor. This was discovered when researchers focused on the genetics of tumors. Our genes are the blueprint for control of every cell in the body. A better understanding of this blueprint means we can find out how different types of tumors work, how they grow, and how to stop them from growing.

Medicines are being designed to target a number of different tumor cell growth mechanisms. With targeted drugs, doctors can select the treatment that is most likely to work for a certain patient and his or her particular type of tumor. This information also means that people for whom the drug would not work can avoid taking it and risking side effects.