Translating Genomics in Cancer Care

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There is increasing enthusiasm for genomics and its promise in advancing personalized medicine. Genomic information has been used to personalize health care for decades, spanning the fields of cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, endocrinology, metabolic medicine, and hematology. However, oncology has often been the first test bed for the clinical translation of genomics for diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic applications. Notable hereditary cancer examples include testing for mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 in unaffected women to identify those at significantly elevated risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers, and screening patients with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer for mutations in 4 mismatch repair genes to reduce morbidity and mortality in their relatives. Somatic genomic testing is also increasingly used in oncology, with gene expression profiling of breast tumors and EGFR testing to predict treatment response representing commonly used examples. Health technology assessment provides a rigorous means to inform clinical and policy decision-making through systematic assessment of the evidentiary base, along with precepts of clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and consideration of risks and benefits for health care delivery and society. Although this evaluation is a fundamental step in the translation of any new therapeutic, procedure, or diagnostic test into clinical care, emerging developments may threaten this standard. These include “direct to consumer” genomic risk assessment services and the challenges posed by incidental results generated from next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies. This article presents a review of the evidentiary standards and knowledge base supporting the translation of key cancer genomic technologies along the continuum of validity, utility, cost-effectiveness, health service impacts, and ethical and societal issues, and offers future research considerations to guide the responsible introduction of NGS technologies into health care. It concludes that significant evidentiary gaps remain in translating genomic technologies into routine clinical practice, particularly in efficacy, health outcomes, cost-effectiveness, and health services research. These caveats are especially germane in the context of NGS, wherein efforts are underway to translate NGS results despite their limited accuracy, lack of proven efficacy, and significant computational and counseling challenges. Further research across these domains is critical to inform the effective, efficient, and equitable translation of genomics into cancer care.

Correspondence: Yvonne Bombard, PhD, University of Toronto, Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, The Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital, 30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1T8, Canada. E-mail: yvonne.bombard@utoronto.ca
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