A personal attack on cancer

The term “personalized medicine” is bandied around a lot in the news, but why do we need a personal approach to treating cancer?

The majority of current treatment, targets the uncontrollable growth of cancer cells that leads to tumor formation. However, too often this kind of treatment fails to effectively eliminate the cancer cells, and tumors reoccur. Treatments need to be more effective.

Each case of cancer arises independently and so cancer, although given the single name, is actually as individual as a person. Therefore, to effectively target cancer, patients must be treated on an individual basis. Personalized medicine requires finding out exactly what alterations, so called mutations, have arisen in an individuals’ cancer, and then targeting them specifically.

target-pox-2There are some examples where personalized medicine has been used effectively. For instance, in selecting a treatment for breast cancer an individual’s mutations are examined, and in approximately 70% of cases one particular mutation is identified and matched to a treatment that has a fantastic cure rate.

Can medicine provide solutions such as this for every case of cancer? Theoretically. We can certainly identify the changes that occur in cancer. But it seems unlikely that we will be able to discover drugs to target the infinite possible mutations that can occur within an individual. The diagnostic is clear, we need personalized treatment, but as yet we only have a few tools effective in a limited number of cases. Drug discovery has some catching up to do.


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