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Taking it personally

26 March 2014

Toronto -

Join us for our first research tweet chat on personalized healthcare

April 1, 1 p.m. ET #CCSRIchat

We’re all familiar with the expression, “It’s in your genes.” Well, it’s true – in your genes are instructions that determine almost everything about you: the curliness of your hair, the colour of your skin and maybe even your personality. 

However, what’s also in our genes puts some of us at risk of developing various diseases, including cancer. For example, mutations in the BRCA genes – genes that normally prevent cancer from developing – are linked to the increased chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

At the same time they are uncovering these genetic variations, scientists are also identifying strategies that target these mutations and their effects. In the case of BRCA mutations, women may choose preventive surgery or chemoprevention drugs. They may also need to be screened or tested at an earlier age or more often than women who are at average risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

Thanks to the tremendous advances in technologies used to study and analyze the genome – our full set of chromosomes – our understanding of cancer (as well as other diseases and conditions) has dramatically changed. Using this genetic information with information about an individual’s environment and lifestyle helps to build a picture that can be used to customize care. This approach is sometimes called personalized healthcare.

Custom tailored

As we increase our understanding of all these factors, personalized healthcare will offer more effective ways of predicting, treating and even preventing cancer. Research has told us that about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by eating well, being active and maintaining a healthy body weight, while it is estimated that smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths. Using this knowledge can help us identify our risks for cancer and plan our lives to decrease those risks.

From prevention and treatment, to enhancing the quality of life of patients living with and beyond cancer, the Society has invested in research that is examining ways to personalize healthcare. Among the research we have funded or are currently funding:

  • Dr Louise Parker in Halifax is leading a study that has collected home drinking water samples and toenail clippings from 960 men and women to measure the levels of arsenic in their bodies. High levels of arsenic can cause bladder, kidney, lung and skin cancers. Dr Parker hopes that this project will help us understand the link between arsenic and urinary cancers and lead to better prevention strategies for people at higher risk.
  • Dr Robert Hamilton is heading up a study of the genetic signatures that predict a favourable response to prostate cancer chemoprevention. By identifying patients who are likely to respond to one or more medications and not over-treating patients who are unlikely to respond, he is working toward bringing personalized medicine to cancer prevention.
  • Dr Harvey Chochinov in Winnipeg has developed the Patient Dignity Question (PDQ): “What do I need to know about you as a person?” Dr Chochinov’s study looks at the impact of asking that one simple question of cancer patients in the last weeks of their lives.

Do you have questions about personalized healthcare?

Join our tweet chat on April 1 at 1 p.m. ET and find out more. Participating in the chat to answer your questions are:

Dr Christine Williams, Vice-President, Research, Canadian Cancer Society

Dr Siân Bevan, Director, Research, Canadian Cancer Society

Dr Jim Woodgett, Director of Research and Senior Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital

Dr Kristin Campbell, Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia, Clinical Exercise Physiology Lab

Dr Michael Wosnick, Science Communicator, former Vice-President, Research, Canadian Cancer Society

Here’s how to participate:

If you don’t already, follow us on Twitter @CCSResearch

On April 1 at 1 p.m. ET, log in to Twitter and follow #CCSRIchat. You can also follow using a tweet chat room via sites like tchat.io or twubs.com. You’ll be asked to log in using your Twitter account and enter the hashtag #CCSRIChat to see only that conversation. 

Ask a question, share your knowledge and learn something new