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Do our genes hold the answer to winning the battle against cancer? Some oncologists seem to think so and are relying on genetic profiling to help treat patients diagnosed with cancer. The information from the patient's gene can help doctors map out a personalized treatment designed around an individual's genetic profile, say experts. 

Last year, Heli Dawoodani (44) was diagnosed with breast cancer, but though she and her husband consulted many oncologists, no one could give them a clear answer as to what stage the cancer was in. "All the doctors we consulted suggested chemotherapy," said Nizar, Heli's husband. But he did not want his wife to undergo chemotherapy except as the last resort. It was then that they approached Dr Suresh Advani, a breast cancer specialist associated with many hospitals including Raheja and Jaslok. He suggested that tissue samples be sent to a diagnostic centre for gene profiling to understand the nature of the tumour. 

Usually, a breast cancer diagnosis is followed by chemotherapy because doctors can't always predict whether the cancer will return. Gene profiling tests can determine whether chemotherapy will be of any benefit and if the patient faces a low or high risk of recurrence. Often, a high expression of oestrogen and progesterone in the profile means that the patient's prognosis is good. "After analyzing the results, it was decided that Heli's cancer could be treated with radiation alone," said Nizar. 

Genetic profiling does not come cheap. The Dawoodani's had to spend an additional Rs 2 lakh for the gene profile. A few city oncologists have been using the technology. "Many a time, we don't really know the nature of the cancerous growth or what kind of treatment should be given to a person when they are resistant to initial drugs. In such cases, we recommend gene profiling," said Advani. Genetic profiling can also come in handy when a patient has a history of breast cancer. There are only a handful of diagnostic laboratories in India, and most of the work is research based. Dr Ravi Gaur, vice president of Oncquest Labs, said: "Many oncologists use the data we provide to help treat their patients. We get about 10-15 cases a month." Not all doctors believe that profiling is the answer to cancer treatment. Dr Rajan Badwe, director of Tata Memorial Hospital, said. "The technology is quite new, and hence it is better to wait. Studies are being done on the technology in the US and UK," he said. 


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