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Personalised medicine

Personalised medicine is when a treatment is customised for a particular patient, designed to work with their individual genome, so treatment delivers the maximum benefit with the minimum risk of side effects.

Cervical cancer

Cancer that forms in the tissues of the cervix and is mostly caused by human papillomavirus infections

Primary tumour

The original site where the cancer started to grow

Gene therapy

A new, experimental method of fighting disease by replacing a defective gene with a healthy gene


A small amount of dead or weakened pathogen is introduced into the body. It prepares the immune system to prevent future infections with the live pathogen.


A vaccine contains a weakened or dead form of a pathogen, its toxins, or surface proteins, and the immune system reacts to this as if it were a functioning, disease-causing microorganism. The immune system is ‘trained’ to fight off the disease, so that if the person or animal encounters the functioning pathogen another time, the body's immune system is prepared and prevents them from getting sick.


Single-celled organism. Has a cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm. Its DNA is loosely-coiled in the cytoplasm and there is no distinct nucleus


Microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi


The smallest of living organisms. Viruses are made up of a ball of protein that contains a small amount of the virus DNA. They can only reproduce after they have infected a host cell


Human papillomavirus. A group of viruses some of which can be sexually transmitted and can cause genital warts and cancer

Treatments of cancers

Prevention is better than cure. Avoiding things like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excessive exposure to sunlight can help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Early detection can also help to catch tumours before they have spread.

Cancer can start anywhere in the body and it can spread to form secondary tumours. Doctors need to be able to tackle the primary tumour as well as any secondary tumours. Often a range of medicines and treatments are used together.

Surviving cancer

Researchers continue to develop better methods for detecting and treating cancer. The effects of this research and development can be seen in the graph. It shows the increase in people who are surviving for 10 years or more after their cancer was detected.

Cancer survival rates diagram

Future cancer therapies

There is never likely to be one single treatment that can be used against all the different types of cancer. However, researchers are constantly looking for improved treatments that kill cancer cells without being harmful to normal body cells.

Viruses Viruses normally infect cells where they reproduce and destroy the cell. This usually causes problems but some viruses are being genetically modified so that they will only infect cancer cells. The virus only kills cancer cells and leaves normal cells unharmed.
Stem cells Stem cells can be used to replace cells that produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the bone marrow. This is useful if the bone marrow has been damaged due to radiotherapy or chemotherapy. New research suggests that certain stem cells could also be used to target the destruction of cancer cells.
Gene therapy Gene therapy involves getting a section of DNA into a patient's cells. Some researchers are looking at how gene therapy could be used to treat cancer. If a cancer is caused by a faulty gene, then a 'healthy' gene could be inserted into the patient's cells. Other approaches target the immune system to help it fight the cancer cells more effectively. Some treatments are looking at using gene therapy to make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Personalised medicine Personalised (sometimes called stratified) medicine is already being used for some types of cancer.

An example is seen in the treatment of a type of lung cancer. Patients can be screened to see if they have a particular genetic mutation. If they do, doctors know that they are likely to respond well to a medicine called gefitinib (Iressa ©). Knowing this helps to personalise the treatment to be as effective as possible.

In the future advances in DNA-sequencing technology may allow doctors to quickly analyse a patient's genetic make-up and see which therapy they will respond to. This will allow doctors to tailor the types of medicines used and so reduce unwanted side effects.

Preventing cancer in the future


A virus, called HPV, is linked with the development of cervical cancer. Vaccines have been developed against this virus. In the UK, vaccination against HPV is made available for girls aged 12-13. Researchers are investigating a range of microbes that may have links with cancer. These include hepatitis B and C viruses with liver cancer and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori with stomach cancer. Developing further vaccines may allow people to be immunised against microbes linked with cancer.

Question 7

Look at picture below. It looks at a 'typical' 100 cases of people who have been diagnosed as having cancer and summarises the treatments and survival rates.

Cancer survival rates

Quiz Print
Out of 100 cases of cancer, how many are cured?
Suggest why patients with skin cancer are generally cured?
40 cases out of 100 have advanced cancer. What percentage of this group are cured?
Suggest why patients with advanced cancers are much less likely to be cured.