Genomics & biomarker testing matter: They can indicate cancer and other diseases

Key takeaways:

  • Each person has a unique gene composition, two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent.
  • Biomarker testing enables healthcare providers to predict and diagnose diseases.
  • Genetic testing can reduce the number of time-consuming tests used to identify health risk factors or diseases.

[6 min read]

Did you know that there are thousands of genes in our bodies and that each person has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent?

We still have a lot to learn about ourselves and thanks to biomarker testing, healthcare clinicians now know much more about our genes. Indeed, biomarker testing is how we are able to receive personalized treatments based on our unique cell characteristics.

Watch the video below to learn more about how biomarkers are used to deliver personalized care and precision medicine.

Status of precision medicine

There has been a major shift in cancer care towards targeted therapies involving the use of biomarker testing. Our bodies have many different types of cells, like muscle, brain, blood, skin, white and bone cells, and each one has distinct features. The foundation of clinical trials and studies is investigating these unique biomarkers to find targeted therapies for a wide variety of cancers and other diseases.

The findings of the last two decades, which started with next-generation sequencing and the unlocking of the human genome, have allowed physicians to learn more about what makes “us,” the peculiar individuals that we all are, “us.”

While biomarker testing enables healthcare providers to predict and diagnose diseases, the human genome provides a reference to abnormal findings resulting from clinical studies involving biomarkers.

While biomarker testing enables healthcare providers to predict and diagnose diseases, the human genome provides a reference to abnormal findings resulting from clinical studies involving biomarkers. The results of the studies are a refined ability to target diseases with specific therapies. For example, lung cancer patients used to have poor prognoses, but with the advent of new targeted immunotherapies, they are living longer with an improved quality of life.

Why do biomarkers matter?

Broken down, the relevancy of biomarkers to precision medicine involves three different types:

  • Diagnostic biomarkers may signal the presence of different types of cancer or diseases.
  • Prognostic biomarkers provide clarity on how your cancer or disease may progress.
  • Predictive biomarkers help indicate potential treatments and whether you are a candidate for specialized therapy since there are many different options and clinical trials.   

Biomarkers underpin a clinical field of study called genomics. This a big and complex concept that can often be confusing. Specifically, many people often confuse genomics with genetics. Below we offer a brief and simple explanation of each:

  • Genomics is the study of each person’s gene composition (the individual genome) has enabled us to understand how we are built and how diseases develop during our lifetime. It’s about what we have been exposed to and these changes cannot be passed on.
  • Genetics is the hereditary piece, the inheritance of genes from our parents, from one generation to another. Today, we know how genes interact and influence the human body, how cells grow and divide – all of which have been critically important for the discovery of what drives the growth and spread of various diseases, conditions and cancers.

Together, the study of genetics and genomics has led to innovations that enable healthcare providers to develop more precise treatment programs for patients. 

Providence testing

At Providence, we have a broad network of research that spans seven states. The commitment to finding and adopting new scientific methods and ongoing investments in research to inform innovative care ensures that Providence providers can deliver the world-class care patients deserve. 

With more than 1200 ongoing clinical trials across the Providence system, we are able to use genomic and biomarker testing to gather insights about patients’ health, which results in our ability to offer personalized care and precision therapies.

With more than 1200 ongoing clinical trials across the Providence system, we are able to use genomic and biomarker testing to gather insights about patients’ health, which results in our ability to offer personalized care and precision therapies.

In the study of biomarkers, Providence currently offers two programs: 1) Cancer patient testing, which helps us make informed decisions about treatment, and 2) Genetic testing for populations to help us identify abnormalities.

Cancer patient testing 

This program uses biomarker testing to identify ways to target specific abnormalities in order to design personalized treatments; ones that are best suited based on the individual’s tumor characteristics. 

Genetic testing in populations

The geno4ME program helps us predict if individuals are at an increased risk of hereditary problems, certain types of cancer, and other health conditions and diseases. Insights gleaned from this program allow individuals and their healthcare providers to more effectively monitor their health as they grow and age.

Comprehensive profiling

Genetic testing is important for identifying changes in your chromosomes, genes, and proteins that could have adverse effects on your health. The results can rule out or confirm suspected genetic conditions. At Providence, we specialize in next-generation biomarker testing and process samples in our state-of-the-art laboratory in Portland, OR.

Genetic testing is important for identifying changes in your chromosomes, genes, and proteins that could have adverse effects on your health. The results can rule out or confirm suspected genetic conditions.

Our approach to biomarker testing is called Comprehensive Genomic Profiling (CGP), which investigates the status of over 500 different genes (for cancer patients) giving patients and their care teams a deep look into the DNA makeup. Results for cancer patients are generally available in 10-17 days. Geno4ME testing looks at about 71 genes and the results are generally available within a few weeks.

Conclusion

The depth of knowledge gathered from evidence-based research has allowed Providence researchers, clinical experts and care teams to develop improved diagnostics, create personalized treatments and offer more effective therapeutic care. Biomarker and genetic testing is an evolution in personalized care and precision medicine. Understanding the risks for cancer, heart disease or any number of health conditions can help patients more effectively plan for getting the care they need.

We believe knowledge about the internal makeup of humans is the key to eradicating pervasive diseases and helping patients live happier and healthier lives.

If you are interested in learning more about your genetic make-up talk to your doctor to decide if biomarker testing is right for you.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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