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Could you explain the genomic aspects of cancer? I've heard about 'targeted therapies' and 'immunotherapies'. How do they work and could they be beneficial in my case?
- Hillary Lin(Physician)•
Cancer is fundamentally a disease of the genome, meaning it arises due to changes in the DNA within our cells. These changes, or mutations, can cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, which can lead to the formation of a tumor. Every person's cancer is unique and has a unique set of genetic alterations.
Genomics is a field of science that studies the entire set of genes (the genome) in an organism, and how those genes interact with each other and the environment. In cancer research and treatment, genomics is used to identify the genetic alterations that drive the growth of specific cancers. This information can be used to develop targeted therapies designed to interfere with the function of the mutated genes or the proteins they produce.
Targeted therapies are drugs or other substances that can block the growth of cancer cells by interfering with specific molecules ("molecular targets") that are involved in the growth, progression, and spread of cancer. They are often designed to affect cellular processes that are more critical for the growth of cancer cells than for normal cells, which can make targeted therapies more effective and less harmful to normal cells than traditional chemotherapy.
For example, some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins, or other molecules involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. Others help the immune system destroy cancer cells or deliver toxic drugs directly to cancer cells and spare normal cells.
Immunotherapies are treatments that stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer. Our immune system is constantly checking our cells to make sure they're not cancerous. Sometimes, cancer cells can "hide" from the immune system using certain proteins. Immunotherapies can block these proteins, allowing the immune system to detect and destroy the cancer cells.
One common type of immunotherapy is called "checkpoint inhibitors." These drugs work by blocking proteins on cancer cells, or on the immune cells that interact with them, that would normally keep the immune system in check and prevent it from attacking the cancer cells. By blocking these proteins, checkpoint inhibitors "release the brakes" on the immune system, allowing it to attack the cancer more effectively.
Whether targeted therapies or immunotherapies could be beneficial in your case depends on the specific genetic and molecular characteristics of your cancer. Genomic testing (also called genetic profiling or genetic testing) of your tumor can help identify specific mutations or other genetic changes in your cancer cells that could make them susceptible to these treatments. You should discuss the possibility of genomic testing and these types of therapies with your healthcare team.
It's important to note that while these treatments can be very effective for some patients, they're not the right choice for everyone, and they can also have serious side effects. Your healthcare team can help you weigh the potential benefits and risks to determine the best treatment plan for you.