What is Precision Oncology?
Precision or personalized oncology is the practice of using biomarkers measured from a person’s cancer sample to guide diagnosis and optimal treatment. These biomarkers are like an individual’s “fingerprint” that show genomic or immunology changes in a tumour or within a person with cancer.
Determining a cancer’s fingerprint
What is genomics? With scientific advancements in the mapping of the human genome, the evolution of genomics today allows molecular pathologists to use DNA and RNA from cancer samples to “sequence” or “profile” any individual’s cancer through a highly specialized genomic test called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS).
Just as your physical fingerprint is made up of a unique combination of loops, arches and whorls, a cancer’s biological fingerprint is made up of a unique combination of gene alterations. Some of these gene alterations or mutations (also called biomarkers) may be a target for new treatment designed for that alteration / mutation. Also, the cancer may cause immune related changes, that when tested, can determine if a person is a candidate for immunotherapy.
When genomic or immunologic testing is conducted on cancer tissue, a profile of the tumour’s genomic make up (cancer’s fingerprint) is generated as a report for the oncologist that can be used as another tool to understand a person’s cancer in greater depth. An individual’s tumour genomic / immunologic profile may or may not include known mutations that inform further cancer care.
NGS Profiles in Cancer Treatment Decisions
The genomic / immunologic tumour profile, like a fingerprint, distinguishes one person’s cancer from another. This opens up the possibility for considering a personalized approach to cancer treatment that is uniquely tailored to a particular cancer patient. If a known alteration or mutation is detected in a person’s genomic / immunologic tumour profile, an oncologist can determine if there are approved mutation-matched drug treatments available to prescribe or novel drug therapies in active clinical trials that a person with cancer may wish to consider participating.