What is precision medicine?

Cancers are all different. In fact, every child’s cancer is unique, just as every child is unique. This means that two children who have the same type of cancer and show the same symptoms may respond very differently to the same treatment.

Doctors and scientists often use the term ‘precision medicine’ when they are talking about basing patient care on genetic factors – for example, treating a patient with a therapy that specifically targets a particular genetic alteration found in that patient’s genome that is driving the cancer.

Another term which tends to be used interchangeably with ‘precision medicine’ is ‘personalised medicine’. For The Zero Childhood Cancer Program the term ‘precision’ is considered much more accurate.

How does precision medicine work?

Learning about a child’s cancer begins with a comprehensive analysis of a sample of that child’s tumour. In the case of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, precision medicine involves analysing each child’s cancer to look for any genetic mutations or alterations that could be driving the cancer’s growth. This means examining the molecules inside the cancer cells to try to identify the precise molecular characteristics and genetic alterations (such as mutation of a particular gene) that are driving the growth of that cancer.

Once the molecular drivers of the child’s cancer are understood, the challenge is to find a drug that will be effective against that child’s cancer. Ideally, the treatment will be one that specifically targets the child’s cancer cells and leaves their healthy cells unharmed, thereby minimising any damaging side-effects.

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