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There's Good and Bad


Almost nowhere in medicine is the impact of personalized medicine being felt as much as in oncology, says Susan Gilbert, public affairs editor for the nonpartisan research institution the Hastings Center. In an article for the Hastings Report, Gilbert writes that the traditional approach of treating almost all patients with a specific kind of cancer in the same way is giving way to a more "selective approach in which genetic tests are run on tumor samples to identify which patients are likely to benefit from which drugs, or to tell whether they need drugs at all."

While much of personalized cancer care has a scientific basis, much of the decision-making going on between doctor and patient about treatment "requires a giant leap of faith," Gilbert adds. There are a few "crystal balls" in the form of genetic biomarker tests, but they don't always make the choice of treatment simple, she adds. "Thirty years ago we could not find many of the cancers that are diagnosed today, and people died of them. But today millions of people with those cancers receive treatments they do not need," Gilbert says. Despite this, she adds, "Personalized medicine could go a long way to reducing unnecessary care, prolonging quality life, and reducing suffering."