Science Snippet: Another Step Taken to Control Cancer

A giant step toward controlling cancer is emerging because today cancer is seen not as a disease of specific organs, but as a disruption of molecular mechanisms caused by specific gene mutations. In other words, cancer is a genetic disease, and new gene mapping techniques make it is possible to personalize cancer treatment. The National Cancer Institute is sending biopsies of tumors to a gene-testing lab, where samples are being tested for more than 4,000 possible variants of the 143 genes known to be associated with cancer formation. Also, it is known that cancer cells shed their own specific DNA into the bloodstream, and new tests allow physicians to identify the kind of shed cancer DNA by examining blood samples. This procedure is referred to as a “liquid biopsy.” With about 100 different types of cancers, and 200 or more kinds of cancer drugs, the personalized approach to treating cancer will allow physicians to carefully select the specific kind of drug to destroy cancer cells having a specific kind of genetic makeup. In the past, cancer chemotherapy involved a modified shotgun approach using one drug after another hoping to find one that worked on a given patient. With personalized treatment, if tests reveal a cancer with a XYz3d genotype, the patient could be treated with drug 123-6, which is specifically known to shrink or eliminate XYz3d cancers. (The Economist, June 11, 2016;; other sources)

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