Breast Cancer Treatment Gets Personal
Nov. 2, 2012 | Every cancer patient wants the most effective treatment with the least amount of side effects. But many times it’s impossible to know which drug will most effectively treat which person.
That’s where personalized medicine comes in.
“Personalized medicine allows us to study a person’s cancer to the point where we can design an individual treatment plan best suited for him or her,” Issam Makhoul, M.D., medical oncologist at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), said.
A study published in the Oct. 4, 2012 issue of the medical journal Nature demonstrates the effectiveness of personalized medicine in treating breast cancer. Titled “Comprehensive Molecular Portraits of Human Breast Tumors,” the article details an extensive study conducted by The Cancer Genome Atlas Network, a consortium of cancer centers, hospitals, medical schools and agencies around the world.
“This study is important in that it uses the OMICS methods — genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and others — to show that we can treat everyone in a personalized way. This will allow us to select the most effective and least toxic treatment based on each person’s genetic makeup,” Makhoul said.
Genomics is the study of the human cancer genome and takes into consideration the full collection of genes and mutations that contributes to the development and spread of cancer. Proteomics focuses on the search for patterns among proteins, while metabolomics is the study of metabolic responses to drugs, the environment and disease.
The OMICS methods provide insight previously unheard of in terms of advancing individualized treatment for cancer. “We have gained a lot of insight from the OMICS revolution in terms of understanding the main mutations and changes at different levels of cancer. This allows us to use the most effective and least toxic drugs to hit those weak spots in an individual’s cancer,” Makhoul, associate professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine, said.
While this approach to medicine is still relatively new, it is making great strides. The UAMS Proteomics Core Facility is dedicated to the advancement of personalized medicine, and the UAMS Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy is widely recognized for developing therapies based on each patient’s individual risk factors.
As for personalized treatment for breast cancer patients, Makhoul believes we will see major advancements within the next five years. This will not only save lives and limit debilitating side effects; it also will save money.
“In the near future, we should be able to test a person’s tumor and blood in order to match her with the appropriate treatment, eliminating the need to give drug combinations that don’t benefit the patient. There’s no question that the cost of health care comes down when you can personalize treatment and prevent unnecessary drug therapies,” Makhoul said.