As patients, we often think about cancer based on the organ where the cancer started: breast cancer, for example. But for cancer doctors (oncologists), cancer is much more complex than that. That’s partly because advances in genomics in the last 20 years have allowed researchers and doctors to discover genetic variations in tumors, and there are many, many variations that can occur. In fact, you could say that the genomic “fingerprint” of cancer tumors is unique to each patient, just the way your fingerprints are unique to you.
Using genetics to take a closer look at cancer has helped us have a better understanding of the disease and how to treat it. In order to target these genomic variations, specialized drugs have been developed. A cancer treatment regimen may consist of several drugs specific to the type of cancer you have—and that means not only where it started, but how much it has developed, and what type of genetic variations it has.