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Genetic testing a weapon in the war on cancer

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In the rapidly evolving world of cancer treatment, Bothwell Regional Health Center patients have access to some of the most advanced testing available. 

Bothwell has recently begun working with Caris Life Sciences, an organization that provides personalized genetic testing for different types of cancer. The American Cancer Society describes personalized or “precision” medicine as a method of care in which health care professionals evaluate a patient’s needs based on their genes, or in the case of cancer patients, the genes in their cancer cells. This allows clinicians to plan and tailor care to an individual and their unique needs. For people who might be at a higher risk of cancer, genetic testing can help guide healthy habits and preventative medicine.

According to Dr. Matt Triplett, hematology oncologist at Bothwell’s Susan O’Brien Fischer Cancer Center, there are two main types of personalized genetic testing that can be done – tumor testing and germline testing. 

“Tumor testing looks at features of a patient’s DNA to provide information specific to their cancer,” he said. “Germline testing is also done at the DNA level and can provide information about inherited genetic features in patients and family members who may be at risk.”

Personalized genetic testing is becoming the new standard of care set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Through this type of testing, physicians can personalize their treatment plans to each individual patient, thereby providing a higher level of care. 

“Using genetic testing to guide cancer treatment is not new. It’s been used for decades in lung and breast cancer testing,” Triplett said. “What is changing is that the use of genetic testing is becoming more widespread and playing a role in the treatment of many types of cancer. Current genetic testing can provide information about scores of potentially important genetic features. This progress is due to advances in genetic testing, decreasing costs, and progress in drug development.”

According to the American Cancer Society, although two people may have the same type of cancer, the mutations within their genes may not be the same. For this reason, a drug that may be ideal for one patient may not work as well for another patient. With personalized genetic testing, physicians can get a better idea of a patient’s individual genetic mutations and how to treat them best. 

“One example would be a patient who, after a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer, can avoid

chemotherapy because the genetic test result indicates she has a very low risk of cancer coming back,” Triplett said. “Another example is a patient with late-stage lung cancer could receive treatment in the form of a pill rather than chemotherapy because genetic testing discovered a certain mutation.” 

Genetic tests are straightforward, requiring either tissue from a biopsy or a blood draw. Samples are sent to a lab, and results are typically received within 10 to 14 days. Most insurance plans offer coverage for these types of tests, making them available to the majority of cancer patients. 

“At Bothwell, we have been keeping up with the rapidly changing landscape of genetic testing over the years by following the medical literature and adopting testing guidelines as they are put forth by experts,” Triplett said. “The impact of genetic test results can be enormous for patients. By personalizing care, patients can receive better treatment, giving them a better chance of beating their cancer.”

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