Personalized Medicine

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Every pancreatic tumor is different. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends molecular profiling of your tumor to help determine the best treatment options.

The goal of personalized medicine is to identify specific treatments that may be particularly valuable for a specific patient, or type of tumor, by analyzing the tumor’s biological makeup (genes and proteins within the tumor).
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Treating pancreatic cancer can be challenging. A treatment that works well for one person may not work as well for a different person. Many factors influence a person’s response to treatment. Included among them are overall health, age, type of pancreatic cancer, stage of diagnosis and the tumor’s biological makeup.

Further, all pancreatic cancers are different. Research has shown that different changes in cancer cells (genetic mutations or proteins) play a role in the development and spread of cancers. Personalized medicine allows researchers to analyze the biological makeup of tumors to better understand how those differences influence the way tumors work and how to prevent them from growing.

Current State of Personalized Medicine

Discovery of certain genetic mutations has already been shown to be beneficial when choosing treatments for people with breast, lung, colon and other cancers. In pancreatic cancer, drugs that may target tumor-specific genetic mutations and proteins are being studied in clinical trials.

These drugs are known as targeted therapy drugs. Targeted therapy is cancer treatment that attacks unique aspects of cancer cells. These therapies may target specific genetic mutations or proteins in a tumor that contribute to its growth and survival. Only tumors with the specific mutation or protein are likely to respond to a targeted therapy drug that targets that unique aspect of the cancer cells.

In order to determine if a particular targeted therapy drug is effective in stopping the growth of a tumor by targeting a specific mutation, the tumor being treated must have that mutation. To identify whether a tumor has a specific mutation, a tissue sample from the tumor is collected through a biopsy, and an analysis of the tissue is performed. This process is known as molecular profiling. Learn more about our Know Your Tumor personalized medicine service that uses molecular profiling.

How does molecular profiling work?

Molecular profiling may identify genetic mutations and protein changes in tumors. If a treatment option that targets those mutations or changes exists, knowing the mutations in a patient’s tumor may help select treatment options that may not otherwise have been explored.

Genetic mutations in cells happen two different ways: A mutation may be inherited from a person’s parent (known as a germline mutation), or it may be acquired during a person’s lifetime (known as a somatic mutation).

The process to test for germline (inherited) mutations is different from the process used to test for somatic (acquired) tumor-specific mutations. Only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers involve germline (inherited) mutations. To test for inherited mutations, people undergo genetic testing.

Get More Information
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Patient Central Associates can provide detailed information about personalized medicine. Contact an Associate at 877-272-6226 or patientcentral@pancan.org to learn more about your options.

Most cancerous tumors, however, are caused by an accumulation of somatic (acquired) mutations. In these tumors, somatic mutations are likely responsible for how a tumor behaves or responds to treatment. Identifying these mutations in order to customize treatment is the main principle of personalized therapy. In order to determine which mutations are driving the development and growth of a tumor, a sample of the tumor must go through genetic analysis, also known as molecular profiling. There are several companies and hospitals that may offer analysis of tumor tissue that identifies somatic mutations.

While this is a promising field, it is still an area of research. Not all genetic mutations that play a role in cancer development or response to treatment are known or able to be identified in a tumor. Additionally, while a mutation may be identified in a tumor, drugs that target that specific mutation may not be available yet.

Other considerations are the time it takes to go through the process and the costs that might be involved. Talk to your doctor to determine if personalized medicine is right for you.

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