Health educators, Ide Mills, LCSW and Julia Olff, MBA, CHES recently attended the 1st annual Global Biomarkers Consortium conference: Implementing the Promise of Personalized Care in Orlando. The two day event brought together global oncology thought leaders, who offered a primer on personalized medicine (PM) to oncologists, nurses, researchers and pharmacists to help them better understand this evolving landscape.
We all need help understanding. Below are their thoughts about the conference and what they took away from it.
Julia – I found the conference fascinating and also enjoyed tweeting some of the speaker highlights. What did you think?
Ide – It was exciting to be among international thought leaders who shared their knowledge on biomarkers in both solid and liquid tumors. I was intrigued to learn about unique biomarkers for specific types of cancers, clinical trials studying treatments based on these molecular advances and their implication in clinical practice. Today, we are learning that lung cancer and melanoma are not just single types of cancers, but many subtypes exist within each cancer. Oncologists are learning how to apply this information in patient care – what tests to perform, how to interpret the results, and what treatment decisions to recommend based on this new information. The learning curve among oncologists was discussed[i], so imagine what this means to patients?
Julia – I agree it’s going to be critical to simplify the concepts to make it easier to understand. Personalized Medicine (PM) is essentially tailored medical decision-making. It is a scientific process that determines, before treatment is given, whether a treatment will work based on the individual patient’s biology.
The conference highlighted how PM has evolved over the last two decades in cancer, enhancing the value proposition for specific treatments. With knowledge of the patient’s genetic patterns, health care professionals and patients can make more informed decisions about treatment that takes into consideration the unique patient factors rather than treating the patient solely as part of a larger group. More patients can receive the treatment likely to be effective, thereby extending life and reducing side effect burden from less or ineffective therapies.
Ide- We really need to think about how a patient makes an informed decision if they don’t understand what the oncologist is saying. How does the patient know what they are choosing between? They may look online for information and come across words like molecular biomarkers, mutation and rearrangements, and sequencing and have no idea what they mean? We need to simplify the concepts and make them easier to understand. There are some well-informed, active patients who are on discussion boards and other social communities – and they are helping to educate all of us – including some healthcare professionals. But most patients are not yet there.
As health educators, we need to understand these terms and break them down for the patient. We learned cancer 101 and now we need to go to the advanced class. A dictionary won’t help because the concepts are so advanced and difficult. So the learning curve for the patient is pretty high. It’s our responsibility to support the cancer patient in making this new medical information approachable to master the PM learning curve.