Every day our cells grow and divide, in a routine process that uses DNA as a
blueprint in the process of division. Cancer may occur when a cell’s DNA is
damaged beyond the body’s ability to repair such damage. Over time, these abnormal cells can rapidly grow into tumors or masses that may invade healthy organs and tissue. Research has identified specific genes that are key to cancer growth, giving clinicians the ability to classify an individual’s cancer by the changes in the tumor’s DNA rather than by the stage of disease or where in the body the cancer is located. Comprehensive genomic testing may help doctors provide targeted treatment for each patient’s particular kind of cancer.
If caught early, many tumors can be removed with surgery. Radiation treatment attempts to kill cancer cells by directing
small doses of radiation at precise areas. But cancer can often
spread, prompting some doctors to prescribe chemotherapy, or “chemo,” which kills cancer cells, but may also kill healthy cells throughout the body.
Targeted therapy, which matches medicine to the underlying genomic alterations of the cancer, allows doctors to “target” the cancer while reducing toxic side effects that can accompany other treatments. Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s own defense system to respond to disease, often by training the immune system to target particular cells such as cancer cells.