Viewpoint: Precision medicine promises a lot, but has delivered little

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Image credit: Sidra Medicine

Doctors and hospitals love to talk about the patients they’ve saved with precision medicine, and reporters love to write about them. But the people who die still vastly outnumber the rare successes.

There has been real progress, of course. Testing for genetic mutations has become standard in lung cancer, melanoma and a handful of other tumor types. But the number of people with advanced cancer eligible for these approaches is just 8 percent to 15 percent, experts estimate. And these targeted therapies help about half of patients who try them.

At the most recent meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, researchers presented four precision-medicine studies. Two were total failures. The others weren’t much better, failing to shrink tumors 92 percent and 95 percent of the time. The studies received almost no news coverage.

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Hospitals promote their precision-medicine programs by showcasing the stories of long-term survivors. Companies that sell the tests that look for mutations — such as Foundation MedicineCaris Life Sciences and Guardant Health — highlight only the best-case scenarios.

Against this backdrop of hope and desperation, how are patients supposed to make informed decisions?

The phrase “precision medicine” suggests a high rate of success. While its successes should be celebrated, its failures must be acknowledged, reminding us how much is left to learn.

Read full, original post: Are We Being Misled About Precision Medicine?

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