Cancer is a disease of the DNA.
Knowing what has changed in your DNA may identify targets for treatment.
New tests read your DNA like a book, finding the changes that could explain your disease or that could reveal treatment strategies.
Precision medicine is changing the way cancer is treated.
For decades, new treatments have been developed to improve average response. But what is an average patient? Everyone is different. Some of the newest drugs work very well, but only for the subset of patients who have a certain change in their DNA. Precision medicine starts with a test that examines many of your genes at once, finding the ones that are changed or behaving abnormally. Recent scientific advances, decreasing technology costs, and a gush of new targeted treatments have made precision medicine a practical reality today.
Precision medicine often means more effective drugs, less unproductive or harmful chemotherapy, and fewer side effects. Having a molecular test can help doctors craft a treatment plan that targets your unique form of cancer.
What are mutations?
Mutations are changes in your DNA. There are two ways that changes can happen in your DNA. Sometimes mutations are inherited from a parent. These “germline” mutations can raise a person’s cancer risk. While a particular mutation may be common within a family, inherited cancer mutations are rare in the general population. Some, but not all, cancers are attributed to germline mutations.
Acquired mutations, which scientists call somatic mutations, are found in every case of cancer. These are “errors” in the DNA that arise during a person’s life, and they have many causes. Every time a cell divides, it needs to copy 6 billion letters of DNA. Our bodies do a good job of mistake-catching, but sometimes an error goes unchecked. As we age, errors in DNA can creep into the cell replication process. Environmental exposure – sunlight, chemical fumes, smoking, diet, and so on – can increase the chance of errors. A mutation affecting a gene that is involved in cell life cycle regulation can result in cancer, where cells divide out of control.
Cancer – The first frontier for precision medicine
Examining the genes that are mutated within a tumor can reveal a cancer’s strengths and weaknesses. This information, in turn, helps researchers figure out which treatments might work, which will be less effective, and which won’t work at all.
Diagnostic tests are different at every lab. Some tests look at a few genes very carefully. Others survey many or all genes broadly. Some tests are developed to look at genetic variation, while others test the activity of genes.
A recent molecular test of your tumor is the most helpful
A person’s cancer changes through time. New mutations arise. Old ones fade away as cancer cells respond to treatments. Because radiation and chemotherapy work by damaging your tumor’s DNA, each treatment a person experiences can change their tumor’s genetic fingerprint. This means that molecular test results in cancer have a shelf life. More recent test results are generally more helpful in determining the best treatment.
It’s your data
Your medical data belongs to you. It is your legal right to ask for a copy of your molecular test results – or any other personal medical information – and to use those results in any way you choose. If you are tested, be sure to ask your physician for a copy of the report. It has information you’ll need in order to request your results at Cure Forward. We have established partnerships with several labs, and you can learn about their tests in our directory.
We’ve partnered with several prominent diagnostic labs to make it fast and easy to retrieve your results, and our lab network continues to grow. If you’ve been tested at a laboratory not yet linked with Cure Forward, we will help request your results from that lab. You can also use your printed test report at Cure Forward by manually entering gene variants from your report.