In the same way that no two people are exactly alike, it can also be said that no two breast cancers are the same. Tumors and cancer cells are individual and one patient’s side effects to treatment will likewise be different than someone else’s side effects. All of this seems logical and yet, until recently, cancer treatment has been ministered to all patients and all cancers in virtually the same way, utilizing a blanket pallet of treatments. With recent advancements in research, genetic and diagnostic testing however, this precedence is changing and we are seeing a more targeted, specific and personal approach to cancer treatment and prevention. This is the evolving world of Personalized Breast Care.
What does Personalized Breast Care mean?
The goal of Personalized Breast Care, also known as “precision medicine,” is to give the most effective treatment for each person’s breast cancer. This involves:
- Getting the best results, while avoiding unnecessary treatment. Because all treatments for breast cancer (including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy) have risks and side effects, avoiding unnecessary treatments circumvents these risks and side effects.
- Developing therapies to target specific tumors or specific cellular pathways that lead to tumor growth and identifying the people who will respond best to them.
As diagnostic tests continue to evolve and become increasingly more detailed, physicians will have more precise guidance in choosing the drug or drugs most likely to eradicate a patient’s disease while staving off side effects. Advancements in genomic discoveries may also help patients with advanced, aggressive cancers.
Genetics & Breast Cancer
Cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA, which is then copied when the cells split. Cancerous tumors grow as these defective cells multiply and the immune system fails to repair or destroy them. If the tumor gets large enough, a few of its mutant cells might even enter the bloodstream or lymph nodes and travel to other parts of the body. This is how cancer forms and metastasizes.
Knowing which DNA has been altered is an integral part of personalized breast cancer treatment. When the DNA mutates, it creates a set of genetic markers doctors can analyze in order to identify the biological factors driving the cancer growth.
Genetics also play a part in understanding actual tumors and in figuring out how to eradicate them. There are genetic changes that occur in a cancerous cell and within every tumor there are different regions which often have different molecular features at the genetic and protein levels. There is considerable genetic diversity between different tumors of the same type, and even within a single tumor. This is essentially why each individual cancer is genetically unique – which further supports the personalized care approach.
Targeted Drug Therapies
Many new targeted therapy drugs are under study for breast cancer treatment. These targeted drugs can be designed to attack certain cancer cells or certain cellular pathways. Researchers are continuing to find ways that these drugs can block cancer cell functions and cancer growth, without harming healthy cell functions and causing unintended side effects.
There are a few promising targeted drug therapies for metastatic breast cancer available now, and a few others currently in the clinical trial phase.
One challenge of targeted therapy research is identifying the people who will get the most benefit from the drug. We may understand how a drug works (and which cancer cell functions it targets), but still need to learn whom the drug can help.
What does it all mean?
While there is still work to be done, specifically in translating the wealth of new knowledge into tests and treatments for patients, Personal Breast Care is a very real option for patients facing breast cancer. Now that more and more information continues to become available, patients have the benefit of making very informed decisions about their own treatment.