2022 Cancer Guide

How precision medicine is changing the face of cancer treatment

Dr. Nayana Dekhne
for Beaumont Health
Dr. Nayana Dekhne

When facing a cancer diagnosis, patients need to know that treatments and approaches have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Historically, all cancers have been treated with certain agents. If cancer started in the breast, patients followed a specific regimen. If cancer started in the lung, there was a different regimen. Our understanding of cancer has improved so much, instead of treating a cancer as breast or lung, we’re looking at the mutations in the cancer itself. That is possible with something called “tumor sequencing.”

Tumor sequencing provides a comprehensive approach, as opposed to “remove the tumor and send the patient on to the next doctor.” Tumor sequencing provides invaluable data with a simple biopsy.

With knowledge about the patient’s particular tumor, the medical team can determine the appropriate treatment approach for the best outcome, based on clinical data.

Treating cancer is not always about more treatment, sometimes it’s about de-escalating treatment. There must be a balance between treating aggressively when needed, but not over-treating the patient. Precision medicine allows that to happen safely, treating the right patient with the right drug at the right time.        

Precision medicine also allows us to pre-emptively help patients with genetic mutations that can lead to specific cancers. We know some families have different predispositions of cancer. Both sides of the family matter equally. Patients need to look back up to three generations on both the mother’s and father’s side. For example, maybe your dad is an only child, but his mom or grandmother had breast cancer. Therefore, your dad might be a carrier and you should be tested.

We know we must take action when genetic testing flags a patient for one of these mutations. For instance, Beaumont is leading a study of patients with a mutation associated with pancreatic cancer. Treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer is currently not as effective as treatment for other cancers. But with precision medicine, we discover patients with specific mutations that leave them susceptible, so we can begin screenings earlier to catch cancer earlier, when it is more treatable.

If you have a family history of cancer, you should get genetic testing done at a medical facility. Over-the-counter or mail-order genetic testing provides some data, but not all, and can provide a false sense of security. Ask your family doctor about genetic testing.

The same is true with screenings. For example, if you have a family member who had breast cancer or colon cancer at 40, start screenings at age 30. These steps increase early detection, change the approach to treating cancer -- and could help save your life.


Dr. Nayana Dekhne is the medical director of Beaumont Health Breast Care Centers and chair of Beaumont Health’s Cancer Clinical Care Program.