You are no doubt familiar with many consumer products used by millions. Most people buy the top selling detergent or shampoo or toothpaste. Some women buy the same outfit. And, unless you go to the same place at the same time, it works just fine. You understand that the manufacturer can lower the cost to each of us by mass producing the product, basically, a one-size-fits-all approach.
But does that work when it comes to your health? We’ve done it that way for years. You have certain symptoms so your treatment may just be just the same as the patient before you. And things should turn out just fine. Right? Well, maybe not. Doesn’t your family history mater? What about drug allergies? What about how you digest certain drugs? What about your risk of other illnesses? And do you have a subtype of an illness that needs to be handled totally differently?
Welcome to the world of “personalized medicine” where your illness will truly be approached in a unique way so you get what’s right for you. The bedrock of personalized medicine comes first from the completed mapping of the human genome, the collection of all the genes in one’s body. Now we are beginning to understand how variations in one’s genetic profile can put us at higher risk for this disease or that.
You may have read about companies such as 23 and Me where you can pay to have an analysis done. The problem is doctors don’t know what all the variations mean yet, and even if they did, what they would do differently. But that is changing bit by bit.
What’s fueling the change is computing power. Imagine those super computers that mapped the human genome and all the data they had to crunch. Believe it or not we are now approaching being able to do a genetic workup on a patient, for example a cancer patient, for $1,000 or less. The good news is there are new medicines coming out that match up with the needs of patients who have some specific genetic variations. These are patients who will do best with a personalized approach and more and more of these niche medicines are being developed.
Cancer is at the forefront of personalized medicine because successful “personal oncology” can be lifesaving when a “one-size-fits-all” approach would fail. Dr. Tony Blau, a leader in this field, told me about this in a recent interview for Patient Power’s personalized medicine section: Personalized Oncology: Where Are We Now? at http://goo.gl/ru0e9
He explains how you should seek out personalized medicine when you receive care. You need to speak up and ask for it. And if you get a blank stare, seek care someplace else. He empowers all of us to expect the best personalized medicine can offer today and demand more as the field develops.
I am excited about this and you should be too. Imagine if you could get treatment with more confidence that it is right for you, with little or no side effects and maximum effectiveness. To be sure, we are not there yet. But there are notable signs – in targeted treatments for breast cancer and others – that we are on the right track. As it develops it will transform the monitoring you receive and the care you are given at your doctor’s office and in the hospital.
About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company dedicated to bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, as well as transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team. Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis."
Edited by Jody Smith