Christopher Hitchens and Steve Jobs were among the first patients to benefit from very new technology using DNA sequencing to pick the cancer drugs likely to be most effective. Their deaths also illustrate that we can’t yet expect ‘miracles’ from it. Nevertheless, the idea is that by identifying mutations, doctors can determine the drugs most likely to stop or slow tumor growth.
What’s the Big Idea?
Sequencing is the most expensive and exhaustive way to look for tumor-causing defects. It’s cheaper to just look at genes known to correlate with effectiveness for existing drugs in some cancers. But caring for late-stage cancer patients is so expensive, and so often futile, that even technology as costly as sequencing could easily lead to improvements. The technology is still in its early days, however, and it is not yet saving many lives.