Precision medicine collects information about a person's genes and proteins to treat their cancer. By understanding how cancer affects the genes inside cancer cells, we can match a treatment plan with each person's precise needs.
How does precision medicine differ from conventional cancer care?
Conventional cancer therapies have long focused on removing cancer using the highest doses of radiation and chemotherapy, paired with surgeries. The goal of conventional cancer therapies is to immediately impact the tumor's size. For some people, we can successfully eliminate cancer from the body. For others, they may need several rounds of chemotherapy.
Prolonged use of high doses of radiation will expose healthy areas of the body to harmful toxins that can lead to serious complications. That's why your doctor closely monitors how your body responds to conventional cancer therapies.
Precision medicine is changing the game in cancer care by breaking the mold of one-size-fits-all approaches to cancer treatments. Doctors explore each person's cancer at a deeper level by understanding what genetic factors are driving the tumor's growth. With the right mix of targeted therapies and repetitive, low doses of chemotherapy, we can inhibit the cancer cells and alter the cancer's microenvironment to stunt the disease's progression.
Talking with your doctor about how precision medicine could treat your cancer is very important. While precision medicine can be a smart approach for some people, it's not for everyone. Your doctor will consider your type of cancer, how advanced it is and your overall testing results before deciding if this is the right approach for your health.
We tailor precision medicine to your needs in 3 high-level steps:
- Step 1: Your doctor will take a small sample (biopsy) of the tumor for analysis.
- Step 2: We’ll perform an 'omics' analysis and pathway analysis to understand how your cancer is growing and spreading.
- Step 3: Our experts identify markers in the tumor and match it with targeted medications.
These steps allow us to see how different compounds like DNA and proteins are affecting your tumor’s growth.
How to personalize your treatment plan using precision medicine
Moving forward with precision medicine starts with better understanding your genetic and biologic information. It works by taking a tissue sample of the tumor and performing an ‘omics’ analysis.
An 'omics' analysis dives into these 3 unique components of your molecular structure, plus changes in your DNA that could impact the tumor's growth, also known as genomic alterations:
- Genomics: Studies a person's DNA and how genes function and interact with one another.
- Proteomics: Studies all proteins in the body.
- Transcriptomics: Studies the RNA molecules (known as transcripts) created by genes.
We then do a pathway analysis for each genomic alteration to help us understand the tumor's changing effects on the body. These genes and proteins interact together to send signals that can either activate or inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Once we have a good sense of what causes your cancer's progression and how, we can choose precisely targeted drugs to slow its growth and spread.
Traditional cancer treatments focus on the tumor's location (like the breast, lung or prostate), whereas precision medicine targets each person's unique molecular signature identified by ‘omics’ to stop the tumor from growing and regressing over time.
We tailor your treatment plan using a combination of drugs that specifically target your unique cancer cells and a continuous low dose of chemotherapy (also called metronomic chemotherapy). The goal is to gradually create a controlled, hostile environment that the tumor cannot grow in.
This approach is successful because it addresses the fact that cancer doesn't manifest from a single malignant clone of a cancer cell, but rather the microenvironment that allows the tumor to grow.
Drugs + vaccines
The most common types of targeted therapies are small molecule drugs, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines:
- Small molecule drugs: These change how specific proteins in your tumor behave and “normalize” the effect of molecular pathways. Because of their size, small molecule drugs can easily cross cell membranes and interfere with proteins inside and outside cells.
- Monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs): These use human antibodies to interact with growth factor receptors on the surface of a cell. When these antibodies bind to a receptor, it acts as the red light at a traffic stop and prevents the molecular growth factor pathway from growing.
- Vaccines: Our immune systems don't recognize cancer as a foreign disease. We use vaccines to reactivate the immune system and help the body recognize that cancer cells are harmful substances that must be removed from the body.
As targeted therapies work on specific molecules inside the tumor, low-dose chemotherapy makes it harder for the cancer to spread by changing the tumor’s microenvironment.
Think of cancer cells like weeds in a garden. Weeds grab onto resources before healthy plants can, much like cancer cells drawing resources from your body that healthy cells also need. Low-dose chemotherapy limits disease progression by attacking the tumor ecosystem.