Cancer Patients To Receive Highly Personalized Care, Thanks To Genome Sequencing

Whole-genome sequencing is helping doctors target care. And as the technology becomes more affordable, new studies are showing just what that looks like.

doctors examining patient


A more promising era of cancer treatment may be near–if not exactly imminent. Two studies in today’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) describe the first clinical trials of whole-genome sequencing, which could offer improved prognoses “in the next decade,” according to one of the researchers.

Every body, and every cancer, is different, and responds differently to treatment. Whole-genome sequencing looks at a patient’s DNA for mutations. From that data, doctors have been able to move from a cookie-cutter approach to cancer treatment to a more personalized approach. “In patients with breast cancer, colon cancer and gastric cancer, we now have specific approaches for tumors that exhibit certain genetic abnormalities,” said Boris Pasche, an M.D. and cancer expert who wrote an accompanying editorial to the JAMA pieces. He added that whole-genome sequencing technology “gives us the ability to screen a much larger number of tumors and correlate them with the outcome of the patient,” data that can yield further and further specialized therapy.

Telltale genes can sometimes signal to doctors how they had best proceed. A patient with a certain gene might not respond to a certain treatment. By contrast, other genes might recommend a particularly favorable first-treatment option. Case in point: “In one study, a patient with leukemia had a poor prognosis, but through sequencing, this patient was found to have a gene that showed they would react favorably with a different therapy than originally recommended.”

The technology itself is not brand new, but it has only recently become affordable, enabling real clinical data to result, as the two articles today attest. It used to cost millions to sequence a patient’s genome and tumor. Now it costs something like $35,000; in a decade, predicted Pasche, it will cost less than $10,000.

Related: A One-Stop Shop For Cancer Detection; A Breath Test For Cancer?

[Image: Seattle Municipal Archives]


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David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.