The Southwest Cancer Center’s pioneering work in cancer genomics uses genetic mapping to develop personalized treatment options for cancer patients who have advanced disease and have previously failed standard treatments. We are one of only a handful of similar programs in the country, and so far we’ve enjoyed a success rate of over 70 percent.
How does it work?
At our in-house genomics laboratory, we are able analyze the DNA and genetic makeup of a cancer patient’s tumor. Then we can identify mutations to determine why and how the tumor is growing and — most importantly — what can be done to treat it.
Our team meets with physicians and researchers from around the world to discuss each individual case and explore every possible treatment option. If a mutation is identified and a medication is available for that specific mutation, we obtain the medication using our unique drug navigation program. While we can’t match every patient with an effective medication every time, about 70 percent of our patients have been matched with new drugs.
Who is eligible for testing?
The genomics treatment method is currently being used primarily for patients who have cancer that has moved to parts of their body beyond where the tumor started (metastasis) and have failed at traditional treatment methods. Each patient’s case is reviewed prior to scheduling an appointment to ensure that sequencing is only being done on cases where mutations are most likely to be found.
How can I find out if I’m eligible?
We will need your oncology medical records in order to begin the review process. These records would include the date of diagnosis, the pathology report, recent scans and lab results and importantly, a record of any and all treatments you have had done to treat the cancer. Our oncology nurse navigators can help you with this process.
How long does the review process take?
Our team will move quickly to evaluate your case once all records have been received. The review process can take a week or more but we try hard to give a timely response. Our oncology nurse navigators will contact you to discuss the findings and advise you on next steps.
What if I don’t live in southern Utah?
We are happy to serve any eligible patient no matter where they’re located. Once you pass the review process, an initial in-person consult is required to start the genomic sequencing process. This allows our team to examine you and provide personalized education. We will work with you to set up an appointment that works with you and your current treatment regimen.
If we identify a new treatment option for you, we can discuss the findings and recommended treatment with your current oncologist. It is up to your oncologist to make the decision to take this recommendation and use it. You may also receive treatment through us, but this will require a follow-up visit every four weeks so that we can monitor your progress and respond to any side effects.
If my tumor cells are sequenced, how long does it take to get the results?
It generally takes four to five weeks for get the results of the sequencing. Often current therapies are continued or new therapies may be started during the time that your genes are being sequenced.
What types of medications are used?
When a specific gene mutation is identified, the types of medications that are used to treat them are called “targeted therapies.” Unlike traditional chemotherapy — which focuses on destroying rapidly dividing cells — targeted therapies identify other features that are more specific to cancer cells. These medications work in individual ways, but all interfere with the ability of the cancer cell to grow, divide, repair, and/or communicate with other cells. In this way, the side effects are different from side effects associated with chemotherapy.
How to learn more
Oncology nurse navigators are available to answer your questions and provide additional education and resources. Here’s how to contact them: