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Q&A: A Question All Cancer Patients Should Ask


Ronnie Andrews, president of Clarient

More than 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, but is each case the same? GE Healthcare’s Is My Cancer Different? ™campaign is encouraging cancer patients to ask just that. Ronnie Andrews, president of Clarient, the GE Healthcare company behind Is My Cancer Different?, explains what the campaign is trying to achieve and the problems it seeks to address.

What is Is My Cancer Different? and what is it trying to achieve?
Is My Cancer Different? seeks to educate individuals about the importance of asking a crucial question and providing powerful information on why, when and how it could matter to their treatment choices. Information on the Is My Cancer Different? website will be shared with doctors, families and caregivers to create a landscape of awareness about how individualized cancer diagnostics and treatments can help drive positive outcomes.

How will it help cancer patients?
As its name suggests, Is My Cancer Different? is educating cancer patients about the importance of asking that very simple question. The movement urges patients to ask their oncologist about the benefits of molecular testing, which may be used to more precisely understand a particular patient’s cancer, giving their medical team more insight into which treatment is most appropriate for them.

How does individualized treatment differ from regular treatment?
Regular, standard treatment hits the target, but individualized treatment can go one better and hit the bull’s-eye. Currently, standard treatments for most cancers follow defined protocols established by the medical community and determined primarily by the location of the tumor, its size, and by whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.

Individualized cancer treatment uses precise molecular-level testing to discover what drives each patient’s cancer on a cellular level. This method of tumor profiling may help select more appropriate treatment because it focuses less on the organ of origin and more on the specific abnormalities in the cancer cells.

What kinds of diagnostic and treatment pathways are currently available?
Molecular diagnostic tests are available to analyze the tumor cells in a number of different ways. They can either look at a number of biomarkers, such as the DNA sequence, the number of copies of a gene, the amount of protein that is produced by the gene, or changes to critical proteins in a cell that may contribute to tumor growth.

What are the exact advantages of molecular-level testing?
Most standard chemotherapy treatments use drugs that target rapidly growing and dividing cells, but this also kills other body cells that are dividing rapidly, including hair and stomach lining, leading to unpleasant side effects.

Molecular testing allows an oncologist to pinpoint the molecules that are driving the cancer’s growth. If an appropriate drug is available, it may be used to target the specific drivers of the tumor, potentially sparing the normal cells. This approach to cancer therapy may help the physician select a treatment that is most likely to kill the patient’s cancer cells without causing undue damage to other cells in the body. Molecular testing may also provide information that could indicate if a drug would not be useful for a particular patient, thereby protecting them from exposure to unnecessary and costly treatments.

The Is My Cancer Different? initiative has a companion campaign called Simple Acts of Sharing, which is aiming to get one million people to share the question in one million minutes. You can find out more about Is My Cancer Different? on Facebook and Twitter.