The Promise & Peril of Personalized Oncology

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Topics include: Treatment

It seems like everyone is talking about personalized medicine. What is the real promise here and what might be hype? Personalized medicine in cancer includes the use of genetic testing to determine the molecular makeup of a tumor. It also addresses other important issues, like cancer not being just one disease. ‘Breast cancer’ and ‘lung cancer’ are both comprised of many different diseases, and many respond to different therapies. All of this enables physicians to match the patient with the best treatment, sparing patients from undergoing therapy that may not yield the best results. Expanding the discussion on this episode of Patient Power is Dr. Jeffrey Sosman, Professor of Medicine in Hematology/Oncology and Dr. William Pao, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Lee, a patient, also joins the discussion to share how this ground floor research in personalized oncology care has impacted his life.

Lee Lange, of Clarksville, Tennessee, is a 62-year-old former high school biology teacher. He is fighting for his life against advanced melanoma, which first appeared in his brain, and later in his abdomen. Lee was lucky enough to have his cancer cells studied for their genetic makeup and benefited greatly by participating in a clinical trial at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where an experimental medicine targeted his specific cancer-causing gene. The personalized approach held the cancer in check for about a year and a half. Now Lee is enrolled in a second clinical trial and believes his participation in trials at a major research institution has significantly lengthened his life.

Dr. Sosman talks about melanoma research over the years and how the study of specific genes has altered the atmosphere of recommended therapies. He speaks about matching abnormalities in tumor cells with specific therapies to that abnormality, not only for melanomas, but for all cancers across the board. He emphasizes this process should be reproduced for all cancers, “whether they come from the colon, mouth, skin or the gallbladder.” A concept he describes as changing the “approach to treatment.” Dr. Pao focuses on research efforts in the past decade honing in on why cancers occur in the first place. Don’t miss this jam-packed program where a researcher, doctor and patient all offer a glimpse into the future of personalized cancer care.

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Produced in association with Vanderbilt Medical Center



Andrew Schorr:


When someone is diagnosed with cancer it's their own cells that have gone haywire, and increasingly we're understanding that there's a genetic cause for that. So having a genetic profile of your specific cancer situation could make all the difference in you getting the therapy that's right for you and making sure that you don't get other therapies, often with side effects, that could not be effective. We're going to discuss all that in our live webcast, "The Promise and Peril of Personalized Oncology," coming up next on Patient Power.


Andrew Schorr:


Hello and thank you for joining us for this one hour live webcast sponsored by Vanderbilt Medical Center. I'm Andrew Schorr, and as you just heard I'm a leukemia survivor, 13 year leukemia survivor, so I have been tracking cancer care for a long time, very devoted to helping you and your family if you're affected by cancer, and I suspect you're listening because you are, make the right decisions.

Well, cancer care has been changing, and Vanderbilt certainly with its research and advanced care has been helping lead the way nationally and internationally. Let me describe that for just a second, and then we're going to meet someone who has benefitted from that, someone from Clarksville, Tennessee. And then we'll meet two leading doctors and researchers at Vanderbilt.

So, okay, you're familiar with chemotherapy, and those have been drugs that have been used for many years now, and there are older chemotherapy drugs and newer ones used alone or in combination trying to kill cancer cells. And sometimes people have also had surgery and radiation, but basically it is a kind of a big approach to try to get at those cells, cut them out, kill those cancer cells. And while sometimes it's cured, sometimes it's not, and it comes back or spreads, and that's what we worry about, of course.

So where is this coming from? Well, increasingly we're understanding that there are genes that are responsible that turn on cells that are inappropriate cells, cells gone haywire, cancer cells, and they turn them on, and those cells don't turn off, become tumors in your blood or solid tumors. And if only we could get at this genetic cause by understanding the genes and flip that switch off, whether it's one gene or many, where Vanderbilt has been helping lead the way.

Now I want you to meet, as we always begin our programs, with someone who has benefitted from this new understanding that we're discussing, in this case personalized care for cancer patients. I want you to meet Lee Lang. Lee is 62 years old. He lives in Clarksville, Tennessee. For many years he was a high school biology teacher, so this is a man who understands science and has helped thousands of students understand it as well, and he teaches part time in college now too.

But what happened in 2007? He was not feeling well. Lee, let's revisit that day. What happened in the back yard where suddenly you and your wife knew something was wrong?


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Page last updated on December 18, 2013