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It is important for newly-diagnosed cancer patients and their family members to understand the ethical implications of personalized medicine. Although some patients may currently benefit from research that has already identified targeted therapies for their specific cancer types, this field is relatively new, and much work is still in progress.

Therefore, patients may need to consider the following questions:

  • If available, should they have a genetically-based test to determine the possibility of benefiting from a specific targeted therapy?
  • If a patient is diagnosed with a cancer associated with known inherited genetic mutations (e.g. specific mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other cancer types), should family members receive genetic testing to help determine their risk?
  • Should patients agree to donate their tissue for research?

In assessing these options, Iit is important for cancer patients to understand the implications that such decisions may hold for them and their family members.


Although personalized medicine holds great promise, the associated challenges are not limited to the science behind it. Several public policy and ethical challenges exist that must be addressed before personalized medicine can fulfill patient needs safely and effectively.

All stakeholders must be actively engaged in overcoming these challenges, including:

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  • Physicians
  • Hospitals and cancer centers
  • Private insurance companies
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • Drug and biotech companies
  • State governments
  • Federal government
  • Advocacy organizations
  • And, of course, patients.

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All stakeholders must work together to study carefully the multiple ethical, legal, and social issues raised by this research to help fulfill the promise of personalized medicine while ensuring patient protection and preventing any misuse of new genetic technologies and information.



“Content Developed September 1, 2012”


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