Is Next Generation Sequencing the Solution to Treatment-Resistant Cancer?

Next generation sequencing, or NGS, can be helpful in treating patients who suffer with treatment-resistant cancer, but there’s a second way it can potentially help families impacted by cancer, too. NGS can isolate and identify cancer markers in other family members, predicting who is more at-risk of developing this chronic disease in the future. Because early detection is key to a better outcome, it’s correct to assume next generation sequencing will save millions of people from both the physical pain of cancer and from the emotional toll it takes on entire families. Here’s what we know about how NGS is being used to investigate and treat advanced, or treatment-resistant, cancer.

What Is Next Generation Sequencing?

NGS allows an entire human genome to be completely sequenced within one day. And if you’re wondering why this is such a remarkable feat, you may be surprised to learn the process used to take at least a decade. Imagine the possibilities.

But what does it mean to sequence a genome, and why do we do it? The answer is simple: When scientists sequence a cell or organism, this means they’re able to decipher its entire genetic code. And once we know what an organism’s genetic code should look like, it becomes easier to detect changes or mutations. This, in turn, helps us better understand how diseases begin.

Therefore, when a scientist compares their own findings to the findings found in a genetic sequence databank, such as GenBank ®, they can instantly identify anomalies.

This type of research is helpful, not just for understanding the origins of cancers and infections, but for alerting us to emerging viruses, too. Early detection and intervention lead to more targeted treatment. This, in turn, leads to a more optimistic outcome for the patient.

But How Does NGS Target Advanced Cancer?

NGS is helpful in understanding why a patient’s cancer is not responding to treatment because it’s able to ‘go back’ and decode the tissue of origin. Once a doctor can see where and how the problem began, they can narrow the focus of treatment to concentrate specifically on that type of mutation. And the process works, according to research published in JAMA Oncology. Of 130 patients who participated in that study, 40 percent experienced improved outcomes from more-targeted treatment. And of those 40 percent, 20 percent experienced exceptional improvement.

Imagine being in that 20 percent. Now imagine if your child was in that 20 percent, and you can see why scientists are so excited.

How Can I Get NGS Testing for Myself or My Loved One?

One challenge to NGS testing is that not every clinical lab is set up to perform it. The technique requires specialized equipment and training, technology capable of interpreting the data, and access to a constantly updated genetic sequence databank. However, if you’re interested in undergoing next generation sequencing to treat advanced cancer, talk to your oncologist. It’s possible the technology is available nearby. And if not, traveling to a lab that’s qualified to perform this type of test may be feasible.

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