The Importance of Genetic Testing

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Typically, cancer fighting drugs focus on the tumor’s specific location. The drugs will bombard the cancer along with the surrounding healthy cells. However, what if doctors could alter cancer treatment just for your body and your tumor?
That day will come sooner than you might realize.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a cancer drug that takes a monumental step towards fighting cancer based on a patient’s genetic mutations, regardless of the tumors original location.
Pauline Funchain, an oncologist, commented on the new drug, “This is the first step toward personalized medicine, designing a treatment regimen that is specific to that person and that tumor.” “With a custom-designed treatment, drugs can better target cancerous cells without harming healthy ones and this means faster results and less harmful side effects.”
Dr. Fuchain answers three questions that examine recent progress in cancer genomics and how it is influencing the way doctors treat cancer.
What drugs are available to treat genetic mutations in tumors?
The FDA has approved more than 50 drugs that target genetic changes. Dr. Funchain explains the results of these drugs, “We have gotten great results from these drugs, and there are people alive today who wouldn’t be without them,” Dr. Funchain says. Some patients have been on the drugs for as long as five years, but the uses for those drugs continue to expand.”
Dr. Funchain went on to explain specific examples of approved drugs, “The FDA previously approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) for patients with melanoma, lung and other tumors. In May, the agency approved Keytruda to treat patients with metastatic solid tumor that has certain molecular features — anywhere in the body.
Drugs like pembrolizumab work with your immune system to attack cancer cells.
Doctors used to choose cancer drugs based primarily on how well they worked for a group of patients. But now they can use a drug like pembrolizumab because it matches the genetic makeup of your cancer cells.”

Which cancers undergo genetic testing?
Dr. Funchain states that testing for genetic mutations is routine for patients with lung and colon cancer. In fact, a mutation in some lung cancers responded favorably to oral medication. Dr. Funchain says technicians often can use material from the original biopsy for genetics testing, as long as enough tissue is available. Test results also help doctors predict who is more likely to respond well to certain drugs.

Where do the “bad” genes come from?
Dr. Funchain explains that cancer is both random and “bad luck.” If you smoke or don’t protect yourself from harmful sun rays you increase your chances of “bad luck.”
The body is constantly making new cells — healthy ones and ones with “typos,” or flaws, she says. Some typos are harmless and may just change the color of your hair, for instance. Others, because of their severity and location, may cause cancer.
“The Holy Grail of cancer treatment is to kill the tumor once and for all, and do it in a way with fewer side effects,” Dr. Funchain says. “Genetic testing is opening the door for that to happen.”

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