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Cancer has its own fingerprint

August 6, 2019

Gary Grad, M.D.

Oncologist Gary Grad, M.D. explains how precision medicine targets unique cancer cells

What is precision medicine?

Precision medicine uses the unique molecular profile of each individual’s cancer, combined with real world outcomes data, to optimally guide treatment choices for patients with cancer.

How new is it?

We’ve been using precision medicine at some level for decades. What’s new is the incredible technology that allows the sequencing of hundreds or even thousands of genes of a cancer to see a unique molecular fingerprint. We can understand the cancer biology at a much more sophisticated level. Also new is the analytical technology and machine learning that allows us to correlate those molecular fingerprints with outcomes in a much more efficient manner than we ever could in the past.

Is this the same as personalized medicine?

I consider it “personalized precision medicine” because we learn the precise molecular biology characteristics of a cancer and apply that information to optimally personalize treatment choices for each individual patient.

Are we using precision medicine at NCH?

Yes. We have several oncologists who are thought leaders in precision oncology. We have a broad program that includes hereditary risk assessment, genetic counseling and testing for patients where personal or family history might suggest an inherited risk of cancer. We have specialists who are experts in breast, prostate and colon cancer where use of molecular profiling can help predict recurrence risks in early stage disease. They can tell which patients might benefit from different preventive therapy options. In patients with advanced stage cancers, we have oncologists with precision oncology expertise and next generation sequencing to guide optimal treatment choices and guide patients to the most appropriate clinical trials.

Do we use our own labs for genetic testing?

At NCH we collaborate with several of the best expert genetic labs and facilities nationally to provide the most reliable and informed information to our patients.

What types of patients can benefit from precision medicine?

I believe all cancer patients can benefit from precision oncology. We should be using the most up-to-date, cutting-edge technology to understand all we can about every patient’s cancer. Even if it doesn’t lead directly to an actionable intervention immediately, it and may yield actionable treatment in the future as new therapies evolve.

Is precision medicine covered by insurance?

As with any new technology, there is no “one answer fits all” to this question. This is policy and payer dependent. The companies we work with can usually assist with insurance issues to make testing feasible for the patient. This should be discussed with your individual oncologist.

How do you think precision medicine will change or improve cancer care?

Cancer care will improve as we learn more and more that each individual cancer is unique. For example, all lung cancers do not behave the same or respond to the same treatments. We also can begin to guide and streamline researchers toward targeting specific subgroups of patients with a particular type of cancer.

How can patients find out more about precision medicine at NCH?

Patients can contact an NCH patient navigator for a particular cancer type or call to consult with one of our expert oncologists. We are happy to consult with patients who are concerned about their hereditary risk, are facing a cancer diagnosis or are in search of a second opinion.

Dr. Grad specializes in hematology and oncology and practices at 3701 Algonquin Road in Rolling Meadows. Call 847-870-4100 to schedule an appointment.

When it comes to cancer treatment, one size does not fit all. NCH has comprehensive genetic counseling to identify any inherited gene mutations that might predispose you to various types of cancers. If a genetic risk is identified, we can develop a personalized plan to monitor and reduce your risk. Ask an oncologist if Precision Medicine is right for you. Learn more at