An easy way to understand precision medicine is to think of it as personalized medicine. Although we know that every child is unique, today’s childhood cancer treatment does not consider each child’s genetic differences. Rather, a child’s cancer is treated according to disease type. Because of these genetic differences, children with the same type of cancer often respond very differently to the same treatment, and certain chemotherapies may be effective for some, but not others. As a result, some children are not cured. And many receive toxic drugs that will not work because of important genetic factors.
Through precision medicine, genetic testing of a child’s tumor can reveal important changes that are driving the child’s cancer. This information allows doctors to make treatment decisions that turn off the specific cancer drivers. In this best-case scenario, a mutation is identified for which there is a drug known to be effective. But there are many other reasons sequencing is important.