Avera Medical Minute: Genomics and cancer care

Published: May. 2, 2022 at 10:13 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Advancements in science in medicine are giving oncologists another avenue to offer cancer patients a treatment option that is personalized to that patient’s specific cancer, through genomics.

“What we’ve really explored and developed in oncology is testing the tumor itself. And that’s what really genomics is, moving the field forward with a way to sequence the tumor itself, down to the gene level, and figure out what genes are abnormal,” said Dr. Heidi McKean, Medical Oncologist with the Avera Medical Group.

Genomic medicine uses a patient’s genetic information from the cancer cells to guide treatment options after a cancer diagnosis, providing targeted treatment options based on cancer’s genetic makeup.

“So if I have a patient in front of me, what I want to know from some testing is there a strong family history of cancer? Are there genes we need to find that are abnormal running through generations of the family? So we can find that gene and hopefully find a treatment to target that gene,” said Dr. McKean.

Jo Ann Sowers didn’t have a family history of cancer.

She is active and healthy, but the disease still found her.

In 2018, she was diagnosed with stage 4 gastroesophageal cancer.

She initially responded well to chemo treatments. That is until they seemingly stopped working.

“The treatment options and my responses were not textbook in any way, so we kind of went in with ‘It’s a lost cause,” said Sowers. “I’m stage 4. At that point, Mayo said I probably will make it a year.”

Jo Ann wasn’t ready to give up the fight just yet. After being turned down for clinical trials, she turned to genomics.

“The genetic testing was brand new, I had no experience in any of this environment. I was amazed to know that it was even an option,” she said. Genomics gave her a second chance. “To be able to determine what options might be available for me specifically, so not just esophageal cancer, but my cancer and my genetic makeup.”

Her testing came back to find that the immunotherapy drug “KEYTRUDA” might benefit her, based on the specific genomics of her tumor.

That testing was right. “It doesn’t always work, but for me, I’m two-and-a-half years later and a quality of life that’s amazing that I would have never gotten to have,” she said. Jo Ann is now back to doing the things she loves. “I do palates four days a week. There’s some rowing in there, bike rides about 20 miles every weekend, I’m walking,” she said.

Jo Ann only has to go in every three weeks for an IV treatment.

“Most nights I could go exercise afterward, no downtime. It’s pretty amazing.”

Jo Ann’s doctors say her scans show no signs of active cancer.

For more information, visit www.Avera.org/MedicalMinute

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