Treating cancer based on DNA

When doctors talk about cancer and DNA, there are two types of DNA they refer to:

First, there’s your tumor’s DNA. Tumors grow when the DNA inside your cells mutates. The mutation creates the tumor’s DNA, and causes the cells in your body to grow uncontrollably.

And then there’s your own DNA, or the genes your parents gave you. This is the DNA that lives inside all the cells in your body. Sometimes people are born with cancer-causing gene mutations.

What causes DNA to mutate?

As we get older, everyone develops DNA mutations in almost all our body parts. These mutations can be caused by the aging process, or by environmental factors, like tobacco smoke. The mutations don’t always cause cancer, but sometimes they do. 

Developing cancer due to an inherited mutated gene is less common, but it happens. You’ve probably heard about the BRCA gene mutations that make a person more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer. There are many other less known inherited cancer gene mutations that doctors can look for, too. 

How does knowing more about DNA mutations help treat cancer?

If doctors discover certain genetic changes in your tumor, it could mean your cancer could be effectively treated with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is used to help your own immune system attack the cancer cells.

Additionally in some cases, knowing detailed genetic information about your tumor can also help doctors create a more effective treatment plan. It may even identify you as eligible for a clinical trial. 

Clinical trials are research studies in which patients receive experimental treatments. They’re a critical part of advancing cancer treatment methods. All the cancer treatments available to us today exist thanks to clinical trials. When you choose Nebraska Medicine for cancer care, you’ll have direct access to hundreds of cancer clinical trials thanks to our longstanding partnership with UNMC.

We’re still learning about what it means to use DNA to treat cancer, but it’s clear that advancements in this science will fundamentally change the way we classify tumors and approach cancer treatment moving forward. 

If you have questions, or think this treatment might be right for you, please call 402.559.5600 to schedule a consultation.