Role of Genetics in Cancer- Cancer treated and Targeted Therapy

February 3, 2024 Cancer Hub 29 Views

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Role of Genetics in Cancer

Genetics in cancer plays a significant role in cancer development. Cancer is fundamentally a disease of the genome, involving mutations and alterations in the DNA sequence of cells. 

Here are some key aspects of the role of genetics in cancer:

  • Hereditary Cancer Syndromes: Certain cancers have a hereditary component, meaning they tend to run in families due to specific genetic mutations that increase the risk of cancer. Examples include BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, and Lynch syndrome associated with colorectal and other cancers. ( Know more about- What is Breast Cancer Treatment? )
  • Somatic Mutations: Most cancers are caused by acquired mutations in somatic cells, which are not inherited but arise over a person’s lifetime due to various factors such as environmental exposures, lifestyle choices, and random errors in DNA replication. These mutations can disrupt the normal regulation of cell growth and division, leading to uncontrolled proliferation and tumor formation.
  • Oncogenes and Tumor Suppressor Genes: Oncogenes are genes that promote cell growth and division, while tumor suppressor genes inhibit cell growth and division or promote cell death. Mutations that activate oncogenes or inactivate tumor suppressor genes can contribute to cancer development.
  • Genetic Susceptibility: Genetic variations among individuals can influence susceptibility to cancer and response to treatment. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified common genetic variants associated with increased or decreased cancer risk for various types of cancer.
  • Molecular Subtypes: Advances in genomic technologies have enabled researchers to identify molecular subtypes of cancer based on the genetic alterations driving tumor development. This molecular characterization allows for more personalized approaches to cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.
  • Precision Medicine: Understanding the genetic basis of cancer has led to the development of targeted therapies that specifically target the molecular pathways driving tumor growth. These targeted therapies can be more effective and have fewer side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy. This is how precision medicine and genetics in cancer go hand in hand. 
  • Genetic Testing and Counseling: Genetic testing can help identify individuals at increased risk for hereditary cancers, allowing for early detection, surveillance, and preventive measures such as prophylactic surgery or intensified screening. Genetic counseling provides support and guidance to individuals and families regarding the implications of genetic testing results and options for cancer risk management.

Does genetics help in treating cancer?

Yes, genetics in cancer plays a crucial role in treating cancer, particularly through the field of precision medicine. 

Here’s how genetics in cancer contributes to cancer treatment:

  • Targeted Therapies: Understanding the genetics in cancer and mutations driving cancer growth allows researchers to develop targeted therapies that specifically inhibit the molecular pathways responsible for tumor proliferation. These therapies can be more effective and have fewer side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy, which often affects both cancerous and healthy cells.
  • Biomarker Identification: Genetic testing and molecular profiling of tumors help identify specific biomarkers associated with particular cancer types or subtypes. These biomarkers can guide treatment decisions by predicting response to certain therapies and allowing oncologists to tailor treatment plans to individual patients.
  • Personalized Medicine: By analyzing the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor, oncologists can select treatments that are most likely to be effective based on the unique molecular characteristics of the cancer. This approach, known as personalized or precision medicine, aims to optimize therapeutic outcomes while minimizing adverse effects.
  • Drug Resistance Management: Genetic analysis can help identify mechanisms of drug resistance that develop over the course of cancer treatment. Understanding how tumors evolve in response to therapy allows researchers to develop strategies to overcome resistance and improve long-term treatment efficacy.
  • Clinical Trials Design: Genetics plays a critical role in the design and implementation of clinical trials for new cancer therapies. By stratifying patients based on genetic biomarkers, researchers can identify subgroups most likely to benefit from experimental treatments, leading to more efficient and targeted drug development.
  • Prognostic Assessment: Genetic factors can also influence the prognosis of cancer patients by affecting disease progression and treatment response. Integrating genetic information into prognostic models helps clinicians predict outcomes more accurately and tailor follow-up care accordingly.

In summary, genetics in cancer significantly informs the development and implementation of targeted therapies, personalized treatment plans, and precision medicine approaches in cancer treatment. ( Know more about- What is Chemotherapy ? )

By leveraging genetic insights, oncologists can optimize therapeutic strategies, improve patient outcomes, and advance the field of oncology towards more effective and individualized care.

Which cancers can be treated with Targeted Therapy ?

Targeted therapy has revolutionized cancer treatment by focusing on specific molecular alterations that drive tumor growth and progression. Several types of cancer can be effectively treated with targeted therapies. 

Some examples of cancer treated with targeted therapy and genetics in cancer are:

  • Breast Cancer: Targeted therapies such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta) are used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer, which is characterized by overexpression of the HER2 protein.
  • Lung Cancer: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene may benefit from EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) such as erlotinib (Tarceva) or osimertinib (Tagrisso). ( Know more about- What is Lung Cancer ? )
  • Colorectal Cancer: Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer harboring mutations in the RAS or BRAF genes may respond to targeted therapies such as cetuximab (Erbitux) or panitumumab (Vectibix).
  • Melanoma: About half of all melanomas have mutations in the BRAF gene, making them susceptible to treatment with BRAF inhibitors like vemurafenib (Zelboraf) or dabrafenib (Tafinlar).
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML): Imatinib (Gleevec) and other tyrosine kinase inhibitors are highly effective in treating CML by targeting the abnormal BCR-ABL fusion protein produced by the Philadelphia chromosome.
  • Lymphomas: Certain subtypes of lymphoma, such as mantle cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma, may respond to targeted therapies like ibrutinib (Imbruvica) or rituximab (Rituxan).
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST): GISTs with mutations in the KIT or PDGFRA genes often respond well to targeted therapies such as imatinib (Gleevec) or sunitinib (Sutent).
  • Prostate Cancer: Metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients with alterations in the androgen receptor (AR) pathway may benefit from targeted therapies like enzalutamide (Xtandi) or abiraterone acetate (Zytiga).

These examples illustrate the diverse range of cancers that can be treated with targeted therapy, highlighting the importance of molecular profiling and personalized treatment approaches in oncology and genetics in cancer. Get the best treatment for cancer and full body health checkup at the best hospitals in India. 


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