Gene-Based Cancer Tests Are Not the Silver Bullet

| Jul 8, 2011 | failure to diagnose

Cancer often kills its victims. Some types are nastier than others, but the single word “cancer” is still enough to strike fear into anyone.

That is why proper testing is so important. It is absolutely vital to catch it as early as possible, in order to maximize a patient’s chances of survival. Failure to diagnose and treat cancer properly can be a form of medical malpractice.

Traditional treatments – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy – are grueling and not always effective. So researchers have been experimenting with gene-tested tests to try to detect cancer sooner and treat it more efficiently.

Numerous companies have been set up, and products developed, seeking to use genetic knowledge for diagnostic purposes. The hopes were high that a new way to diagnosing and treating cancer could be found using an emerging field called “genomics.”

Unfortunately, some of the claims made for genomics have been inflated and misleading.

Doctors familiar with the evolving “genomics” field say that one of the problems is the sheer complexity of the analyses required to try to draw patterns from genes.

In one case, at Duke University, a woman diagnosed with lung cancer was persuaded to forego treating the cancer with drugs. Instead, she entered a program at Duke that was supposed to use genes from the cancer cell to indicate the course of treatment.

This treatment didn’t work, the research behind it was discredited, and the woman died.

The National Cancer Institute and the Institute of Medicine are now reviewing the Duke case. And the family of the woman who died is suing Duke.

Source: “How Bright Promise in Cancer Testing Fell Apart,” New York Times, 7-7-11

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