November 29, 2017

Personalized Medicine Is Changing Lives for Lung Cancer Patients

By Lynn Dressler, DrPH
Director, Mission Health Personalized Medicine Program

Personalized medicine evaluates the mutations found in an individual cancer patient’s tumor to predict which cancer treatments have the best chance of working for that patient. Testing for a patient’s response to anticancer drugs before they get the drug provides key information to enhance the patient’s care. Personalized medicine testing strives to replace the trial-and-error approach to the management of cancer with an approach that is scientifically based and individually guided.

Targeted Therapy

For cancer patients, tests are performed on the patient’s individual tumor tissue to find mutations that make the tumor grow. The mutations are then matched to a drug that specifically targets cells with those mutations. This is called targeted therapy. By using targeted therapy, patients can receive the most effective drug to target (and hopefully kill) the tumor cells that carry the mutation. This approach should lead to less side effects (normal cells are left unharmed) and more effective management for each individual cancer patient.

Options for Lung Cancer Patients

Personalized medicine testing has dramatically changed the care for lung cancer patients with advanced disease. In just the last five years, numerous drugs are now available for patients whose tumors have certain mutations. Many advanced stage lung cancer patients are living longer and have options for treatment that just weren’t available before. 

Partnering with the Thoracic Cancer Program

  • Providing cutting-edge, evidenced-based genomic cancer testing as a part of routine patient care
  • Ensuring each patient’s care aligns with national guidelines for tumor-marker testing
  • Conducting studies to ensure compliance and best practices for each patient
  • Enhancing patient access to clinical trials that use genomic-guided approaches to care
  • Educating and training clinicians and patients 

Brief History – Mission Personalized Medicine Program and Lung Cancer 

  • 2014 – Instituted routine molecular marker testing of advanced non-small cell lung cancers to help identify mutations promoting tumor growth and match those mutations to drugs that target those mutations.
  • 2015 – Expanded access to testing to include panels of markers or mutations that might drive tumor growth, including mutations not normally associated with lung cancer. We then match up the mutations with a drug that targets that mutation or a clinical trial testing out a new drug for that mutation.
  • 2016 – The Personalized Medicine Program began offering clinical consultation to providers and patients to interpret and apply the results of cancer genomic testing to better identify a drug that is more likely to work for an individual cancer patient. These tests are usually performed on patients with advanced or metastatic disease.
  • 2017 – The Personalized Medicine Program began a pilot study to look at how a patient’s inherited genes might affect how the patient responds to drugs used to treat pain, nausea/vomiting and anxiety/depression. This new testing looks at genes that the individual patient has inherited from their parents.

Lynn Dressler, DrPH, is the Director of Personalized Medicine and Pharmacogenomics at Mission Health. 

To learn more about Mission Health’s Personalized Medicine Program, call (828) 213-1044 or visit