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When it comes to cancer research, technology and genetics play a major role, from figuring out who is at risk for cancer to the best ways to treat a patient.
This was the main topic of discussion during the Women Tech Council’s (WTC) monthly tech talk, held at the Huntsman Cancer Institute Wednesday. Dr. Saundra Buys, medical director of the High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic (HRBCC) at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, spoke to the group specifically about breast cancer, which she says is used as a model for most cancers because it has been researched extensively.
Buys discussed how technology and genetics help to clarify who is at risk for cancer, how to define each prognosis, and how to optimize therapy through personalized healthcare, which is ultimately the goal of personalized healthcare.
Genes control everything from a person’s eye color to their weight, Buys said, and the same goes for the predisposition to have cancer. Genetic research has shown how the predisposition for cancer can be passed from one family member to another, such as from a parent to a child.
“[Genetics] are a really interesting component of medicine,” she said. “Caring about the patient is important, but so is understanding the genetic information and understanding family history.”
Buys said different types of technology and tests used to help determine a person’s risk for getting cancer include screenings, such as mammograms, as well as using the Gail model, which is a breast cancer risk assessment tool that calculates a woman's risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years and within her lifetime through risk factors such as age and family history.
“Technology has defined genetics and can help us figure out who is at most risk and least risk, what’s the prognosis of the cancer, and what treatments are best for each individual person and cancer to maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity,” she said, adding that a treatment that might work for one person, such as hormone therapy, might not work for another person who is unable to metabolize the medicine due to their genes.
Buys also discussed the best ways to prevent breast cancer, which include drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, keeping a body mass index (BMI) below 25, and exercising for at least two hours a week.
“That could lower your chances by about 30 percent,” she said.