Researchers in Qatar are making use of precision medicine to fight against breast cancer as several steps are being adopted to prevent and treat the disease.
Speaking to Gulf Times recently, Dr Jithesh Puthenveetil, an associate professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, part of Qatar Foundation (QF), had noted that by providing precise diagnosis and treatment, precision medicine can help in predicting the risk of developing complex diseases such as cancer and diabetes, as well as predicting the likely outcome from such a disease.
“Extensive implementation of precision medicine will help shift the focus of healthcare to the individual patient, leading to more patient-centric care. There will be further move from the concept of ‘precision medicine’ to ‘precision health’, where prediction of risk and prevention of diseases will be the priority,” Dr Puthenveetil says.
Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, and the most common malignancy among women in Qatar accounting for 31% of cases in women.
According to an article on QF website, precision medicine is providing new hope to patients and their families in Qatar by utilising international and local medicine-based evidence with Qatar’s unique genetic profile as the basis for a plethora of studies.
At 'Women in Science: The Journey toward Precision Medicine' conference held by Sidra Medicine – a QF member, Dr Salha Bujassoum, senior medical oncologist at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) National Centre for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR), provided frontline insights into how Qatar’s national research efforts and clinical services have advanced and how collaborative efforts in Qatar are improving survival rates and revolutionising treatment.
Dr Bujassoum highlighted how researchers at NCCCR, Sidra Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, a QF partner and other research hubs are employing precision medicine to transform the understanding of breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
She said: “Precision medicine is a strategy for disease treatment and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle – it’s about using genetic biomarkers to switch from one-size-fits-all treatment to a personalised approach.
“Precision medicine aims for optimised tumour response to treatment combined with the preservation of organ function and, thus, quality of life. The concept of an individualised approach is not new in the field of breast cancer; however, recent advances in genomic medicine allowed more personalised approaches.”
A better understanding of breast cancer molecular sub-types is enabling doctors to reduce their reliance on chemotherapy, with its savage side-effects, and instead look to new options such as immunotherapy, which helps the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells, as well as hormone therapy and drugs that directly target the tumour.
Speaking on breast cancer prevention, Dr Salha described how NCCCR launched its high-risk screening clinic in 2013 to cater to patients with a hereditary predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers, which was expanded in 2016 to manage patients at high risk for other hereditary cancers.
“In terms of prevention, we are applying risk reduction strategies not only for the person who has the relevant gene mutation but also members of their families, and we are doing this routinely,” she said.“The median age of diagnosis for our breast cancer patients is 47 years and around 30% of cases are diagnosed below the age of 40; young onset breast cancer is typically a more aggressive disease than that experienced by older women.”
Dr Bujassoum emphasised that early diagnosis and better treatment rested on a combination of effective clinical care, education and research.
“The major risk factor for cancer in general is decreased physical activity, which creates obesity, and there is a growing body of research about the microbiome, as well as the link between Vitamin D deficiency and incidence of malignancy. So, we need to look to modifiable risk factors in our local communities and study these in our populations and consider how we can decrease risk by modifying lifestyle,” she added.