A New Cancer Fighter? What’s Precision Medicine?

When it comes to health care, most everyone knows about the Big C — Cancer. Chances are pretty good you or someone near you has been diagnosed with some form of cancer.

Although cancer is a concerning diagnosis, new advances in treatment are continually giving patients reasons for genuine optimism.

Precision Medicine

One promising advancement in cancer treatment is precision medicine. This approach is giving additional treatment options to health care providers and some cancer patients.

Precision medicine therapies are available to certain patients who have not had success with conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, or who have previously had no treatment options.

Precision medicine is built around a team approach to health care. Team members include medical oncology, pharmacy, pathology, research and genetic counseling services.

The precision medicine team takes advantage of what is called molecular profiling technology.

What Is Molecular Profiling?

We all have individual differences. We look and act differently. Our individual genes are also different. Researchers have found the makeup of cancer cells and tumors also differs from person to person.

Molecular profiling explores the molecular makeup of a person’s cancer tumor. Using a biopsy of the tumor, scientists determine its genetic characteristics. Those characteristics become the tumor’s molecular profile. Health care providers then select targeted therapies — or treatments — that can attack the genetic characteristics of the individual cancer tumor.

Targeted precision medicine therapies can be easier on the patient than other therapies.

Chemotherapy works to kill rapidly dividing cells, including both cancerous and non-cancerous cells. Because chemotherapy attacks cells without differentiating between cancer and non-cancerous cells, the therapy can have bad side effects.

By comparison, targeted precision medicine therapies interact only with specific molecular components of cancer cells that are involved in the tumor’s growth. Precision therapy is designed to attack only the tumor and to leave non-cancer cells alone.

Since targeted precision medicine therapies attack specific cancer cells, patients tend to have few serious side effects.

Patients will discuss with their health care teams if precision medicine is right for them.

Health Care Professionals Share Data

Another important component of precision medicine is that health care teams can share the information they gather about different molecular genetic characteristics of cancers. Health care providers can also share information about the targeted therapies and patient results.

Aurora Health Care is already sharing information about precision medicine therapies within our organization.

To expand the reach and effectiveness of our precision medicine efforts, Aurora is joining the Oncology Precision Network — OPeN. It’s a leading data-sharing network created specifically for not-for-profit health systems such as Aurora.

The information shared on OPeN becomes part of a database that’s available to a national network of health care systems and hospitals. Through OPeN, hundreds of cancer experts will be able to share results of the precision medicine treatments of thousands of patients.

The privacy and security of patients is a priority, so personally identifiable patient information is not available on the network.

The information that is shared by the network can benefit other patients who may have genetically similar tumors to those already successfully treated elsewhere. This can save valuable time in getting patients effective treatment sooner.

OPeN launches in late 2017 at Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. All 19 Aurora Cancer Care facilities will begin submitting findings to OPeN in early 2018.

Aurora’s cancer care centers treat about one in four cancer patients in Wisconsin. That adds up to nearly 8,000 new cancer patients each year.

The information shared via OPeN will also allow Aurora Health Care providers to offer patients more treatment options. Equipped with more specific information, providers can also make smarter treatment recommendations based on information collected about tumors and what’s worked well with other similar tumors in the past.

OPeN offers another benefit. It can serve as a vehicle for paring patients with appropriate clinical trials when they’re available. These trials are essential as providers continue to explore new treatment options.

If you have questions about cancer treatments or precision medicine, visit with your health care provider or see a cancer specialist. You should also educate yourself on ways you can reduce your risks for cancer.

Aurora is a not-for-profit health care system and we’re pleased to join other not-for-profits to be part of the Oncology Precision Network. 

Meet the Author

Michael Thompson, MD, PhD, is a board certified hematologist and oncologist at Vince Lombardi Cancer Care in Milwaukee, WI. Dr. Thompson is also medical director for the Early Phase Cancer Research Program, Patient-Centered Research at the Aurora Research Institute. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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