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How precision genomics is used in cancer care

Last Modified: July 27, 2023



This post was written by Emily Powell, PhD, ACRP-CP, principal genomic scientist manager, Precision Genomics Program, Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

Precision genomics is a strategy for “personalized medicine” that involves tailoring treatments and preventative strategies according to an individual person’s genes. The goal of precision medicine is to target the right treatments to the right patients at the right time. The Precision Genomics Program here at Parkview provides scientific support to physicians who are using this rapidly advancing field to treat patients according to their genomic profiles.

What is genomic testing?

Genomic testing is a way to identify variations in a person’s genes. Our genes are like a blueprint for our bodies; they provide the instructions to build every cellular process, from the color of our eyes to how quickly our cells divide. Variations in our genes can be thought of as mistakes in the blueprint. Some of these mistakes, or mutations, are inherited from our parents and are present at birth. Other mutations develop later in life and are only present in cancer cells, so they cannot be passed to future generations.

How is precision genomic testing used in cancer treatment?

Some patients may develop cancer as a result of an inherited mutation, while others may develop cancer without any inherited mutations. In both cases, the tumor often contains mutations that caused the tumor to grow and spread throughout the body. Some of these mutations can be “blocked” by using certain targeted therapies.

For example, a mutation in the BRCA2 gene can be inherited or developed later in life and exist only in the cells that become cancer cells. In both cases, a class of medicines called PARP inhibitors may stop the cancer from growing and spreading. However, PARP inhibitors may not shrink the tumor in a patient who does not have this mutation. Patients with a different mutation could have their tumors targeted by a different therapy.

Knowing about inherited mutations can also guide preventative medicine. For example, patients who inherit a mutation in the BRCA2 gene might be at an increased risk for certain types of cancers and could benefit from earlier and more frequent screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. These screenings can help identify cancer earlier so that the patient is more likely to survive.

What are the benefits to genomic testing?

Genomic testing is very beneficial for some patients for whom a “one size fits all” chemotherapy approach is not effective. For patients who don’t respond to standard chemotherapy, genomic testing may provide additional or more effective treatment options.

In addition, genomic testing may tell a patient they have an increased risk of developing diseases such as cancer or heart disease. In these cases, a cancer may be caught earlier leading to a better prognosis or heart disease can be treated earlier, resulting in a decreased risk of heart attack.

How is Parkview advancing genomic testing research for our community?

The field of precision genomics is rapidly advancing and expanding with new scientific discoveries made nearly every day. The Precision Genomics Program at Parkview provides scientific support to physicians to treat patients according to their genomic profiles. Understanding the molecular pathways that are disrupted by these genetic mutations is essential to providing the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.

In addition, the Precision Genomics Program is able to look across the genetics of the entire Parkview patient population to ensure that the health system is armed with the best screening programs, medications and clinical trials to offer the more comprehensive care possible to our patients.

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