Using DNA, radiation therapy gets personal

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Science  23 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6306, pp. 1348-1349
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6306.1348

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At most cancer hospitals today, medical oncologists routinely order genetic tests that help guide their drug treatment decisions. But down the hallway in the radiation ward, cancer patients typically get a one-size-fits-all course of radiotherapy, regardless of their genetics or those of their cancer. A small but increasing number of radiation oncologists is hoping to change that. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology next week in Boston, researchers will describe their hunt for gene activity profiles in tumors that can help determine how susceptible the cancer will be to radiation. Others are looking for variations in patients' normal DNA that explain why some people tolerate radiation well, whereas others experience severe and lasting side effects ranging from trouble swallowing and memory loss to impotence and incontinence.