For much of modern history, the devastating side effects of chemotherapy — which in their most severe form can include heart, kidney and nerve damage, infertility and infection — were unavoidable for many patients with cancer. Furthermore, even with chemotherapy, the odds of surviving the disease were often marginal.

But thanks to new kinds of tests called personalized diagnostics, the landscape for treating cancer is changing.

Targeting cancer cells

Personalized diagnostics can identify molecular characteristics that may be good targets for novel drugs that can kill cancer cells without harming healthy ones. These drugs, called targeted therapies, are often more effective than chemotherapy and are usually associated with less severe side effects.

The American Cancer Society credits the use of personalized diagnostics in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) for helping to nearly triple the five-year survival rate for CML patients. The tests can guide treatment for patients with an expanding variety of cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

“2015 that more than 70 percent of cancer medicines in development are associated with a personalized diagnostic ...”

Developing new treatments

Excited by these promising advantages, drug developers around the world have begun to partner with personalized diagnostics companies to develop new drug-diagnostic combinations that can improve the health of cancer patients.

In fact, the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development estimated in 2015 that more than 70 percent of cancer medicines in development are associated with a personalized diagnostic, and 35 percent of the cancer drugs approved that year were so-called personalized medicines.

For these reasons, many scientists believe personalized diagnostics will continue to play an increasingly important role in the future of cancer care.