Custom Care: Personalized Treatment for Breast Cancer

July 21, 2017 | by City of Hope

Dortha Chu - Profile Photo Dortha Chu, M.D., Ph.D.

The term “personalized” gets used a lot in medicine these days. If you’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis, you’re probably wondering what personalized breast cancer care really means.

At City of Hope, your treatment team will use state-of-the-art breast imaging technologies and laboratory techniques to design a treatment that’s tailored just for you.

Here’s what you can expect.

Genetic signatures

Genetic testing is one of the major advances made in breast cancer treatment in the last few years, said Dortha Chu, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery at City of Hope.

Different breast tumors have their own unique genetic signatures. By testing for genetic markers in those cancers, doctors can determine what type of breast cancer is present and how a tumor might behave, Chu said. In some cases, doctors can even predict which chemotherapy medications will be effective for treating a tumor, and which won’t work as well.

“We can offer you therapy that would give you the maximum benefit and hopefully with the fewest side effects,” Chu said.

Surgical selection

Personalized treatment encompasses more than just genetic testing, though. For most patients with breast cancer, surgery is the first step. And many factors go into choosing the right surgical procedure.

Surgical options include lumpectomies (in which a portion of the breast is removed) and mastectomies (in which the entire breast is removed). There are sometimes nipple-sparing or skin-sparing options to consider.

There’s no one right approach for every patient. Doctors will consider factors, such as the size of the breast, the size of the tumor, the cosmetic impact of different treatments, and each patient’s personal concerns and goals. “The patient should have full partnership in determining the best treatment,” Chu said.

Understanding your options

Starting breast cancer treatment can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging for patients to make sense of their options. “The advances are wonderful for treatment, but they can become very confusing,” Chu said.

To Chu, personalized medicine starts with helping the patient fully understand the disease and their own unique test results. The next step is to discuss treatment options. That means talking about the science, but also personal factors such as how a patient feels about different therapies and how well she can tolerate potential side effects.

That conversation is well worth the effort. Genetic advances have been a major step forward in providing customized treatment, Chu said. “And City of Hope has been on the forefront of helping to develop those kinds of treatments and establish their safety and efficacy.” 

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