What’s in a name? It’s personal and it’s precise

There is a great debate raging among cancer research leaders around the country.

  • It is not about whether this is an incredible time in cancer research that is fundamentally changing our understanding of cancer – we all see advances being made in our centers every day.
  • It is not about whether this enhanced understanding of cancer will change how we approach cancer medicine – we all see research advances that have resulted in dramatic improvements in how we treat many of our patients, and many more are on the way.
  • It is not about whether some cancers have proven to be incredibly difficult to treat – we all know there are some types of cancer where progress has been devastatingly slow.
  • It is not about whether increased funding for cancer research would speed up progress against cancer – we all agree that increased funding is needed to accelerate progress, particularly for the most refractory cancers.

So, we agree … We are making great progress in our understanding of the biology of cancer.   We are learning that cancer is incredibly complex, as is the response of the body to the cancer.  We are now able to test and identify the mutations that cause cancer, and are finding that every cancer is unique.    We are starting to use this information to identify the best possible treatment for each patient.  Support for cancer research is vital if we are to accelerate progress.

Then, what are we debating?  We are debating what we should call this new era in cancer research and cancer medicine.

Some feel the dramatic shift in cancer research and cancer medicine should be identified  with the word “Personalized” since we are improving our ability to identify the best possible treatment for each person.  On the other hand, cancer physicians have always sought to provide personalized cancer care and treat each patient as an individual based on their own medical and personal needs and perspectives, even when our knowledge of the biology of the cancer was more limited.

Others feel the term “Precision” is more appropriate, as it speaks to our goal of providing care that is precisely designed for each individual, and allows us to more precisely target the cancer.  “Precise” treatments that are specifically designed for an individual patient’s cancer should be effective and have fewer side effects compared to the “one size fits all” approach that often only benefits a fraction of the patients who receive treatment.   On the other hand (and there would not be a debate if there was no “other hand”), the term “Precision” is a bit cold, and does not convey the important recognition that we need to look beyond the molecules and consider at the whole patient when deciding what to recommend for each individual patient.

The discussion concerning which name best reflects the incredible change taking place, and the promise it holds for our patients, continues.

Personally, I lean toward the term “Precision,” but acknowledge I don’t have a precise rationale – it is a personal preference.

In upcoming blogs I will review some of the elements of the Precision Oncology program we are developing at Holden.