Not so long ago, if you had cancer, it was said that you had either blood cancer OR solid cancer. Today, cancer is diagnosed according to where it is found on the body… breast cancer is initially found in the breast; lung cancer in the lungs; brain cancer in the brain; ovarian cancer in a woman’s ovaries; etc.
And in the near future (I hope), cancer will be diagnosed according to the genes found in the tumor itself. And treatment will not be determined by cancer location, but rather by it’s genetic make up or by the gene mutations that exist within a tumor.
So for instance, “patients with skin cancer, colon cancer & thyroid cancer might be reclassified as “B-Raf mutation” patients and be treated with the same mutation-specific drugs. Instead of receiving breast cancer-specific chemotherapy, a breast cancer patient might join those with ovarian, uterine & cervical cancer to receive drugs targeted at inhibiting the IK3CA mutation found in their tumors.” This is personalized medicine… targeting treatments to a specific individual.
Sounds amazing, right?! Yes, IT IS… if your tumor has a known mutation. Unfortunately, not every tumor has an identifiable mutation. And many tumors are made up of more than one mutation. But isn’t it worth seeing if you are one of the “lucky” cancer patients (oxymoron I know) whose cancerous tumor has a mutation(s). When you match the RIGHT targeted therapy or chemotherapy to the RIGHT tumor, magic occurs & the tumors shrink, die off & hopefully the cancer goes into remission.
It wasn’t until Alan & I started working with the MOST amazing group of doctors at Champions Oncology that we learned any of this.
So here’s my advice…PUSH your oncologist to get both genetic & biomarker profiles of your tumor BEFORE you start any treatment regimen. Genetic Profiling generally identifies the specific genetic mutation(s) & Biomarker Testing includes molecular profiling. It might give answers that would change the treatment regimen and improve your odds for success. Assuming that getting the biopsy or tumor sample is feasible, isn’t more information is better than less? (BTW, I could write an entire post on the “heated debate” I recently had with a doctor over doing these tests… maybe I should write “What is a Dr. Schmuck-part deux”?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Get your tumor tested & work with an Oncologist that will use these results to find the BEST possible treatment for you. (fyi… not all doctors will use the results from these tests so my advice is… Be you own advocate. Do your own research. Talk to your doctors. Weigh the pros & cons. Make up your own mind. And never, ever give up!
BTW, 2 of the leading cancer centers, Massachusetts General Hospital & MD Anderson Cancer Center, are beginning to offer routine genetic profiling of tumors for every cancer patient. What does that tell you?… What was once a novel approach to cancer treatment is becoming… albeit slowly… more mainstream.