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Precision cancer medicine (targeted therapy)


Personalizing cancer medicine goes beyond customizing a treatment plan that meets your specific needs. Cancer is driven by changes in the DNA of cells. New and future treatments target these changes in your cells. We use changes in a tumor’s DNA to determine the treatment or clinical trial that will be most effective for you.

Tumors are made up of cells. Normally, cells in the body receive signals to grow and signals to stop growing. However, tumor cells have genetic changes (mutations) that allow the cells to grow out of control or that disrupt the processes that tell the cells to stop growing.

These mutations result in the cancer cells growing and spreading throughout the body unchecked and causing damage. To stop tumor growth, it is necessary to target these mutations. Researchers have created drugs that interfere with those signals so the tumor stops growing, doesn’t spread and may be destroyed.

The goal of precision medicine is to determine if the tumor has certain genetic changes that are targeted by a certain drug or drugs. We work to match the right drug to the right patient at the right time.  

Why Choose Precision Medicine at Vanderbilt

  • National leaders

    We have made some of the first and most important advances in personalized, targeted medicine. Our team developed some of the first tests in “tumor genotyping” (analyzing the specific DNA of a tumor), helping us get the right medicine to the right patient.

  • Research center

    Our researchers work with our cancer teams to bring the benefits of DNA research directly to you. We have a deep knowledge of cancer at the level of the tumor’s DNA, so we can create precise treatments that stop cancer in its tracks.

  • Innovation in precision medicine

    Our researchers not only apply the latest research in cancer care, but also pioneer some of the latest innovations. Our researchers launched the My Cancer Genome resource. This international resource helps doctors match specific genetic tumor mutations to available treatments.

  • Molecular tumor board

    We offer expert consultations on select oncology cases for patients with next-generation DNA sequencing results (somatic or germline) who are being treated at Vanderbilt and elsewhere. Physicians may submit cases for review using our secure online form.

Precision Medicine: What to Expect

You may be a candidate for precision medicine if your tumors have known genetic changes driving their growth—and if there are available medications to counteract those changes.

If you are a good match for precision medicine, the process will involve:

  • Mapping the tumor’s genes: We examine the most important genes from the tumor. Typically, patients have undergone a biopsy earlier in the diagnostic phase, but we may need to perform a new biopsy to obtain the tissue sample.
  • Analyzing the tumor’s DNA: Our experts analyze the DNA of the tumor to determine if it has one or more of the known genetic mutations.
  • Updating your medical record: With your consent, we add your test results into your electronic medical record. This information will be useful to your cancer care team when planning your treatment now or in the future.
  • Discussing treatments: Based on the results of the genetic analysis, we discuss if you may benefit from certain medications.

Benefits of Precision Medicine

Precision medicine offers many advantages for patients:

  • Targeted therapy: Treatments target specific DNA changes and leave other cell processes alone. This often means great cancer-killing potential with less impact on the healthy cells.
  • Personalized treatment: We can predict before you begin treatment if the tumor will respond well to the medicine — and choose accordingly.
  • Limited side effects: Side effects may be limited. And we can often predict the ones you are likely to experience and help you prevent and manage them better.
  • Effective care: Precision medicine hits cancer where it starts — at the deepest cell level. It stops the DNA signals that allow a tumor to grow and spread.