An Inside Look at Genomic Testing for Cancer

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For patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer, genomic testing can be used to identify the genetic fingerprint of a particular cancer. Changes in genes called mutations can cause normal cells not to function properly.

When cells become damaged during replication, the body typically fixes them before they become cancerous. But certain mutations can cause the cells to grow out of control and spread, which can lead to tumors.

Through either a blood test or biopsy, cancer cells are extracted and examined in a lab. The test looks for changes in specific genes or chromosomes which can identify how the tumor functions.

While two people may have the same type of cancer, they may not have the exact same mutations. Doctors may use the results to suggest individual treatments that target just the cancer cells based on the specific mutation.

These medicines work by attaching to, or entering cancer cells and controlling how they grow, divide, and spread. Some work by marking cancer cells so that they can be better seen and destroyed by the immune system. Others stop them from growing or cause them to self-destruct.

Understanding what makes your cancer unique can help you and your doctor create a treatment plan that's best for you.