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Precision Medicine

Personalizing cancer medicine goes beyond customizing a treatment plan that meets your specific needs. Cancer is driven by changes in the DNA of cells, and new and future treatments target these changes. At Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, we use changes in a tumor’s DNA to determine the treatment or clinical trial that will be most effective for you.

Precision Medicine: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram

We are leading the field in precision medicine:

  • National leaders: We have made some of the first and most important advances in personalized, targeted medicine. Our team developed some of the first tests in “tumor genotyping” (analyzing the specific DNA of a tumor), helping us get the right medicine to the right patient.
  • Research center: Our researchers work hand-in-hand with our cancer teams to bring the benefits of DNA research directly to our patients. We have a deep knowledge of cancer at the level of the tumor’s DNA so we can create precise treatments that stop cancer in its tracks.
  • My Cancer Genome: This international database, started by researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram, is a valuable resource for doctors looking to match the right medicine to the right patient.
  • Molecular tumor board: We offer expert consultations on select oncology cases for patients with next-generation DNA sequencing results (somatic or germline) who are being treated at Vanderbilt and elsewhere. Physicians may submit cases for review using our secure online form.  

Tumors are made up of cells. Normally, cells in the body receive signals to grow and signals to stop growing. However, tumor cells have genetic changes, or mutations that:

  • Allow the cells to grow out of control
  • Disrupt the processes that tell the cells to stop growing

These mutations result in the cancer cells growing and spreading throughout the body unchecked and causing damage. To stop tumor growth, it is necessary to target these mutations. Researchers have created drugs that interfere with those signals so the tumor stops growing, doesn’t spread and may be destroyed.

The goal of precision medicine is to determine if the tumor has certain genetic changes that are targeted by a certain drug or drugs. We work to match the right drug to the right patient at the right time.

Precision Medicine: What to Expect

There are two criteria to determine if you are a candidate for precision medicine:

  • Tumors have known genetic changes driving their growth.
  • There are available medications to counteract those changes.

If you are a good match for precision medicine, the process will involve:

  • Mapping the tumor’s genes: We examine the most important genes from the tumor. Typically, patients have already undergone a biopsy earlier in the diagnostic phase, but we may need to perform a new biopsy to obtain the tissue sample.
  • Analyzing the tumor’s DNA: Our experts analyze the DNA of the tumor to determine if it has one or more of the known genetic mutation.
  • Updating your medical record: With your consent, we add your test results into your electronic medical record. This information will be useful to your cancer care team when planning your treatment now or in the future.
  • Discussing treatments: Based on the results of the genetic analysis, we discuss if you may benefit from certain medications.

My Cancer Genome

Researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram developed My Cancer Genome, a site that collects data on different mutations that cause cancer and available medications. It is a resource for all cancer physicians, researchers, patients and caregivers around the country to easily access information on tumor mutations and medications.

My Cancer Genome is constantly growing, identifying new genes and diseases and matching them with existing medications. Learn more about My Cancer Genome.

Precision Medicine for Cancer: Benefits

Precision medicine offers many advantages for patients:

  • Targeted therapy: Treatments target specific DNA changes and leaves other cell processes alone. This often means great cancer-killing potential with less impact on the healthy cells.
  • Personalized treatment: We can predict before you begin treatment if the tumor will respond well to the medicine – and choose accordingly.
  • Side effects: Side effects may be limited. And we can often predict the ones you are likely to experience and help you prevent and manage them better.
  • Effective care: Precision medicine hits cancer where it starts – at the deepest cell level. It stops the DNA signals that allow a tumor to grow and spread.

Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support

Precision medicine may be one part of your comprehensive treatment plan. Even after treatments are completed, cancer can continue to affect your life. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment.