Imagine if a patient’s cancer treatment was as unique as their fingerprint – a therapy specifically designed to target their individual tumour’s characteristics. This isn’t something from a science fiction film, but rather the reality of cancer treatment today – with advanced technology called precision oncology. Swapnil Mishra spoke to Dr Vaibhav Choudhary, consultant, medical oncology, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai, Excerpts from an interview:
What exactly is precision oncology?
Precision oncology is a cutting-edge approach that is reshaping the way we perceive and treat cancer. Also known as personalised cancer therapy, precision oncology is an innovative approach to cancer treatment that takes into account the unique genetic makeup of both the patient and his / her tumour.
Instead of using a one-size-fits-all treatment, precision oncology designs treatments tailored to the specific genetic alterations found in each person’s cancer cells. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, their tumour can be sequenced to identify specific genetic mutations that drive the cancer’s growth. These mutations are like the cancer’s Achilles’ heel – if we can target them, we can potentially stop the cancer in its tracks.
Integrating genomics has augmented precision oncology by tailoring the treatment to the unique genetic profile of each patient and guiding the choice of the most effective options from chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapies.
What exactly is genetic testing?
Hereditary cancers account for about 10% of all cancers and are caused by genetic mutations inherited from parents. These cancers can arise in people carrying certain gene variants, which put them at a higher risk of developing particular types of cancer, including but not limited to, breast, ovarian, colon, and pancreatic cancer.
It is in these cases that hereditary cancer clinics with specialist teams offer genetic counselling, testing, and personalised risk assessments for individuals with a family history of cancer. Genetic testing is a powerful tool, which helps estimate an individual’s lifetime risk of developing cancer by identifying specific genetic changes.
With the help of germline cancer panel testing, the presence of several cancer-related genes like BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, and PTEN, which are associated with an elevated risk of developing specific cancers can be detected. By identifying these genetic mutations, patient care can be significantly improved, guiding decisions about preventive measures, such as increased screening or risk-reducing surgeries. The findings can also guide the use of targeted therapies.
An example is the PanPredict lung cancer panel that tests for 11 predictive genes for both mutations and fusions in advanced lung cancers, with an impressive turnaround time of just five days. This rapid, sensitive, and specific testing can significantly expedite treatment decisions, giving patients a crucial head start in their fight against cancer.
And what is the molecular tumour board advantage?
A molecular tumour board brings together experts from various specialities to discuss the best treatment options for individual patients, based on the genomic alterations present in their cancer. These meetings facilitate a holistic and precise approach to patient care, helping to address diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic questions and making the best possible clinical care decisions.
In the battle against cancer, every piece of information counts. Precision oncology harnesses the power of genetics and personalised medicine to decode cancer, one patient at a time, offering manifold advantages. Precision oncology, with its focus on personalisation and genetic testing, is a game-changer.