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Health care was once largely one-size-fits-all. Aside from a few factors, like personal treatment goals and whether you were healthy enough to undergo surgery, everyone’s treatment plan for a specific disease typically followed the same protocol. We now know that the cookie-cutter approach isn’t always best when it comes to something as complex as medicine and the people who need care.
This new era of personalized medicine, or precision medicine, took off in the early 2000s, when scientists completed mapping the human genome — a “reference map” for detecting genetic changes that cause disease. The effort, called the Human Genome Project, launched a flurry of research into how doctors could better prevent and treat disease through genetic testing through the development of targeted treatments.
We know that every unique individual needs a personalized care plan based on your health and who you are. Read on as we explain the role of genetics in health care and what it can mean to your long-term well-being.
The Role of Genetics in Health Care
Your genes determine everything from your eye color to your height — and they contain important clues about your health. Genetic testing can also help you learn about potential mutations (changes) in your DNA that make you more susceptible to certain conditions, so you can then take steps to reduce your risk.
How Genetic Testing Can Benefit Your Care
If you’re diagnosed with a health condition, genetic testing can give your health care team valuable information to create a treatment plan that’s personalized to you. For example, breast cancer was once treated primarily with chemotherapy, surgery and, often, radiation therapy.
Now, doctors can tailor treatment to you by considering your cancer type as well as your genetic makeup. Now, during a biopsy to diagnose breast cancer, your doctor might order a tumor marker test to determine whether you have a HER2 genetic mutation that causes the gene to make too much HER2 protein, which causes breast cancer cells grow quickly. There are effective treatments to specifically target these types of breast cancer, and knowing you are positive for the gene can get you better treatment faster.
Ethical Considerations in Genetic Testing
Along with the benefits of precision medicine, there are ethical matters to consider.
Patient privacy can be a concern, especially when using at-home DIY genetic tests. Also, ask yourself if knowing your genetic makeup will be in your best interest — emotionally. If you learn you have a genetic mutation that puts you at greater risk for an illness you may never develop, is the anxiety and the health issues that may arise from it worth it?
We encourage patients and their providers to talk about the benefits, risks and ethical challenges of genetic testing and precision medicine to come up with a plan together — one that has your whole health and best interest in mind.
Limitations of Personalized Medicine
There are also limitations of personalized medicine. For one, targeted drugs often come with high price tags, so it’s important to make sure a costly drug will effectively treat a certain disease. Having a genetic counselor review a genetic test order before it’s carried out can help ensure the test is clinically appropriate and billed correctly.
At AdventHealth, we offer genetic counseling and other personalized medicine services to help bridge these limitations and ensure genetic testing is in your long-term best interest. We’ll help you determine which testing may be best for you, as well as discuss your results and what they may mean for your future.
What’s in Your Genes?
Start the conversation about the benefits of genetic testing by finding an AdventHealth primary care provider. We want you to feel whole — in body, mind and spirit.