What is 'personalized' cancer care?

Cancer is a disease that knows no boundaries. No age group, ethnicity, gender, or lifestyle is spared.

Treating cancer

Decades of research and discovery are yielding evolutionary developments that fire the embers of hope for cancer patients and caregivers alike. Critical to this ongoing, incomplete fight is our understanding of genetics—both the tumor’s genetics and that of the patient.

Fortunately, the mapping of the human genome in 2003 and genetic sequencing has opened the floodgates of opportunity for new approaches to cancer care and treatment.

For instance, we now have the ability to match different types of cancer with individually targeted therapies. Malignant tumors can be subjected to detailed genetic analysis, which helps identify a given cancer’s potential vulnerability.

The term “personalized” is often used to describe this approach, since we are trying to identify the best possible treatment for the particular cancer affecting each individual person.

Of course, cancer specialists have always sought to treat each patient as an individual based on their own medical and personal needs and perspectives.

Precise and individual cancer care

So another term—precision—has been added to the vocabulary of some cancer specialists, including many of us at the University of Iowa’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Precision” suggests precisely targeted care designed for each individual’s particular cancer.

Theoretically and in actual practice so far, “precise” treatments are more effective and have fewer side effects than the one-size-fits-all approach, which often only benefitted a fraction of the cancer patient population.

To some people, however, the term “precision” may seem a bit cold. Furthermore, it skims the fact that we cancer specialists must look beyond the molecules and consider the whole patient when deciding what treatment to recommend.

Whatever the terminology, however, the evolution of personalized, precise cancer care stemming from our new knowledge of genetics is incredibly important.

Personalized cancer care at UI Hospitals & Clinics

Nowhere are these advances better understood and more fully embraced than at the University of Iowa.

As part of Iowa’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, our researchers and clinicians are using what we learn from biomedical inquiry to help each and every patient achieve the best possible outcome.

While the ultimate goal of obliterating cancer as a human health threat remains complex and elusive, we are closer than ever to realizing this dream.


Aaron Bossler, MD explains how doctors at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center use genetics to treat cancer.

Last reviewed: 
June 2016

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