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Personalized Medicine in Oncology: How Do We Fight the Disease of the 21st Century?

Personalized Medicine in Oncology: How Do We Fight the Disease of the 21st Century?

Undoubtedly, one of the main challenges facing modern-day medicine is how to fight cancer. Dr. Rafael López, Head of Medical Oncology Service of Hospital of Santiago de Compostela, reflects on the disease evolution. A talk that reviews the knowledge acquired, the changes in the treatment and the approach to this disease. All of this is discussed from the perspective of commitment to innovation and incorporation of new technologies in the treatment of this disease, without forgetting the most important thing at the center of it all: the patient who is suffering.

How has oncology evolved in recent years?

At present, and after a lot of research and experiential knowledge, we are starting to understand tumors. Up until now, we had been treating breast, lung or colon cancer the same way. Currently, we know that each cell is different, and there are different types within each tumor.
Having detected this, we grouped patients who were likely to respond to a drug or a treatment in similar ways. This is what is known as personalized or precision medicine, “Offering the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” explains López.

  • What are the current problems in the treatment of the disease?

    The time that elapses between the mutation or mutations produced by the cancer and when it appears clinically.

    Tumors are different, within themselves and also metastases.

    The tumor changes continuously. A tumor now is not the same thing as in 6-months time. For this reason, the use of a liquid biopsy that allows the analysis of many substances (exoxomas, tumor substances, etc.) in the blood and other fluids such as saliva or urine is becoming more and more prevalent.

  • Years ago we used to think that all the cells in a tumor were the same. We now know that they are all different.

Genetic inheritance, environmental factors … or chance?

Approximately 70% of cancers are caused by chance, according to a macro study carried out by the prestigious journal Science (1). With these figures, we are only able to prevent 30% of all cancers.

Dr. Rafael López, who himself subscribes to this theory, goes on to say that, “there are several causes that may converge at any given moment and cause mutations to some of our cells, that then turn against us and fight to survive.”

Causes due to environmental factors (smoking, obesity, etc.) and genetic inheritance would account for a third of the cases of cancer detected, according to the study. Furthermore, Dr. López explains that genetic inheritance is not an important contributing factor since it only represents between 5 and 10% of the cases.

Innovation in the development of new treatments

The need to focus on the development of new healthcare technologies in the field of oncology is evident. “We need systems that can refine all the information we receive – whether it’s clinical, database, environmental or patient preferences, among others, and help us make a decision.”

According to Dr. López, another field that is revolutionizing oncology the most is immunotherapy. “I estimate that about one third of the mutations causing cancer will eventually be controlled by immunotherapy,” he says.



Personalized Medicine applied to Oncology [in Spanish]

Dr. Rafael López explains his current and future vision regarding cancer treatments, emphasizing the need to continue researching and developing new drugs and treatments that are increasingly more personalized for patients.

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