Advances in technology, scientific research, and clinical trials have all contributed to a decrease in the cancer mortality rate across the world. Still, cancer remains an untamed beast that continues to disrupt the lives of patients and their families around the globe. Despite significant advances in the healthcare industry, a recent study showed that a whopping 17 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed throughout the world in 2018. In addition to the excessive amount of new instances, 9.6 million patients died worldwide in 2018.
For cancer patients and their families, navigating the pathway of patient care is challenging. Not only do many patients and caregivers enter the world of oncology with little awareness about their newly diagnosed condition, but they are also faced with difficult decisions daily. While most oncologists bring forward a high level of expertise and knowledge about their specialty, new medical advances in the field of oncology are happening every day. So, how can you be sure that you or your loved one is getting the best care for their condition? Furthermore, are there options that you’re missing or new treatments your care team isn’t aware of yet?
Let’s take a closer look at precision oncology, a rapidly developing collection of diverse strategies in cancer medicine that is improving outcomes for patients.
What Is Precision Oncology?
As you can imagine, no two cancer diagnoses are the same. Two similar patients can be diagnosed with the same type and stage of cancer and still follow very diverse paths towards dramatically different outcomes. That’s because your genomic constitution is different from the next patient. Factors such as the environment you live in, the lifestyle you follow, your diet, other health issues, and your specific symptoms can weigh heavily on the effectiveness of your treatment and the long-term outcome of that plan. Testing genetic makeup of your tumor, in particular, can lead medical professionals to actionable data that targets a more effective treatment and improves outcome statistics.
Precision medicine studies the root differences in your genomic constitution. Scientists believe that the more they understand a patient’s genes and the way they function, the better equipped they are to choose treatments that create improved outcomes than the standard of care. Because your specific genes affect your response to certain medications, scientists and researchers can understand how you will react to particular drugs. Pharmacogenomics, a new field and driving force in precision oncology results, combines pharmacology and genomics to tailor treatment to a patient’s specific needs.
Substantially, precision medicine matches the right drugs to the right people. Carefully studying the way your genes will respond to particular cancer therapy, oncologists can develop a rational means to optimize your drug therapy. What does this mean for you or your loved one? Medical professionals can now create optimized treatment plans that maximize effectiveness and minimize adverse effects with drugs and drug combinations that are tailored to your unique genetic makeup.
RNA Molecular Profiling Provides Next Step in Improved Patients Outcomes
Despite new hopes given by DNA molecular profiling, initial testing results exclusively using DNA profiles only provided actionable data for treatment in 20-30% of patients. DNA contains the instructions humans need to develop, live, and reproduce. Changes in DNA have been researched and tested for decades.
Tumor profiling allows scientists and oncologists to look at the genomic makeup of the tumor tissue sample. DNA found in tumors has mutated, making it different from an individual’s normal tissue’s DNA. One challenge with only testing DNA is that mutations can evolve over time. This changes the genomic profile of the tumor, thus reducing the effectiveness of treatment options identified by previously actionable data.
Enter RNA molecular profiling. Not widely known outside of the medical field, RNA is a nucleic acid that’s present in all living cells. RNA is the expression of DNA used in each cell. The main task of RNA is to translate genetic information into machines and structures of your cells. RNA helps determine everything from the color of your hair and eyes to how your gene activity regulates as cells develop. Therefore, looking at RNA in one cell is like only looking at the part of DNA which is used. RNA molecular profiling provides insight that has a profound impact on patient treatment for a wide variety of health conditions, particularly cancer.
By testing a patient’s RNA levels and gene expression patterns, researchers can look at genes that are actually used by the tumor. RNA insight irons out the kinks that were initially seen when precision medicine entered the healthcare industry. While DNA testing alone presents limits, combining DNA and RNA testing has proven to be the next step in more accurate, actionable results for patients and their families.
How Can Cancer Patients and Their Families Trust New Advances in Precision Oncology?
As with anything in the world of medicine, clinical trials have helped determine the effectiveness and outcomes of patients using precision oncology. Where initial studies faced challenges that limited access to genetically matched trials, often failing to provide accurate outcome data based on several factors, a recent study validated the use of RNA testing. The WINTHER clinical trial, published in April 2019, applied RNA expression testing to tailor precision oncology to patients. They aimed to expand precision oncology to patients with advanced solid tumors that progressed after treatment with standard therapies.
The results of the study showed that a more significant number of patients with advanced cancer were matched to personalized therapies based on increased expression of RNA in tumors. This was just “one more step towards the true promise of precision medicine in oncology,” said Richard L. Schilsky, Chairman WIN Consortium and Chief Medical Officer of ASCO. For patients who did not find actionable data from DNA, RNA was used. The patients who advanced to this part of the study were able to find actionable data from RNA and identify a treatment plan that responded better than patients who followed the standard of care. Understandably, patients who are treated with a drug or treatment plan that more closely matches the molecular profile of their tumor, do better when it comes to treatment outcomes.
The Use of Technology in Personalized Cancer Medicine
As oncologists and patients developed an increased awareness of precision oncology, OmiCure have been able to advance the process. While the advances in DNA and RNA molecular profiling continued to create actionable, detailed data for cancer patients, oncologists, caregivers, and patients needed to develop a system to help match the extensive database of existing therapies to the best options for patients. Oncology professionals needed to find a way to streamline results and make them available to patients all over the world.
Here’s how it works. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, their doctor takes a sample of the tumor and sends it in for sequencing to find mutations that cause cancer. A third party performs the sequencing, then the data corresponding to the sequencing of the RNA of your tumor is sent to OmiCure. They use Artificial Intelligence to analyze your unique genetic profile and compare it with international pharmacogenomic knowledge bases. Insight from medical experts, other patients, clinical trials, and published data are compared to develop a patient-specific report ranking the best treatment therapies for you.
Thanks to the addition of RNA profiling, more patients have been matched to treatment options than were possible with DNA only analysis. Thanks to technology, oncologists have fast access to the most effective cancer therapy to fight your tumor in a constantly evolving medical world. Precision oncology using RNA molecular profiling is revolutionizing cancer treatment, helping doctors choose the right treatment for the right patient with confidence. And it also helps patients avoid unnecessary side effects and decrease the cost of treatment, as a bonus.
Hearing a doctor say that you or your loved one has cancer is, undoubtedly, a life-changing, scary event. Navigating your treatment options, understanding your choices, and being equipped with the wealth of knowledge you need to advocate for yourself or your family is overwhelming. This is especially true when doctors provide multiple options without any insight.
For patients, caregivers, and medical professionals, precision oncology is the answer to the many questions that still exist when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Luckily, RNA molecular profiling provides the next step to more effective cancer treatment and informed patient care. It is truly bridging the gap of DNA-only precision oncology to improve outcomes for cancer patients worldwide- a much-needed step in the right direction to confront the untamed beast that is cancer.