You are an individual right? To your mom and dad you are/were like no other. Hopefully your family and friends continue to see you as one-of-a-kind. Had you considered your doctor should see you that way too? Not as yet another one with diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer, but as a singular human being with biology that may be different from even the next person through the door with the same diagnosis.
This is the age of “personalized medicine” and it will accelerate in 2011. It is our responsibility as patients to ensure the power of this concept is leveraged for us each time we interact with the healthcare system. This is especially true as we manage a serious chronic condition or a cancer.
Now, in research and in clinical practice there are refined tests to determine what our specific version of a disease is and there are tests to see how a targeted therapy is working in our bodies. In other words, there’s the opportunity to see which therapy might be right for us that might be different than what is right for another person, and then there is the opportunity to monitor the therapy early on to see if it is doing its job. When it comes to cancer therapy that can mean much more targeted, less toxic treatments. But since no cancer therapy is without side effects, personalized medicine allows us to assess whether the medicine is working after just a few weeks – rather than months – and saves us from unnecessary complications, side effects, and inconvenience. In breast cancer that means should a woman receive a targeted therapy like Herceptin? Or for a lymphoma patient that might mean there should be a PET scan early in therapy to see if tumors are shrinking.
Personalized medicine is not just about treatment. It’s also about prevention. As you may know, there are genetic tests to tell whether you are at higher risk of developing a disease. Now comes word there may be a test to see if you have the p53 genetic mutation which can lead to many cancers. If you do, can approaches be developed to monitor you more carefully to identify and treat cancer earlier? And should you start taking a medicine to lower your risk for a disease you do not have yet?
This is all very hot stuff and I am delighted to tell you I will be the master of ceremonies at a Personalized Medicine World Conference that kicks off in the San Francisco Bay Area in a couple of weeks. To the credit of the conference organizers, they are inviting patient-advocates like me to play a prominent role as we mingle with world famous scientists and those who invest in breakthrough drug development companies. These folks are moving full speed ahead, and I can assure you I will have news to report on this in the coming months.
But why did I say at the outset there’s anything each of us can do now as patients? Isn’t this all science news that has not yet matured for the rest of us? No! I believe in each and every interaction with our doctors we should demand that we be assessed and treated as individuals, and I mean at the biological level. What medicine is needed that is right for us? And if we receive a medicine, is it benefiting us and with side effects we can tolerate? There is no longer a “one size fits all.”
Please view our current featured programs on personalized medicine and make sure you get the diagnostic tests, even refined state-of-the-art genetic tests, that are right for you. Again, just as you were that special someone for your parents, your doctor should see you that way too.
Wishing you and your family the best of health,