Personalizing cancer treatments through targeted drugs and customized doses can make strides in care for pediatric patients with cancer, cancer specialists said in the National Institutes of Health's (NIH’s) News in Health.

As science and the understanding of cancer evolves, treatment options naturally do too. Will Parsons, MD, PhD, a child cancer specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital, explained that the discovery of variants in cancer cells is shifting treatments from traditional agents (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation) to targeted drugs, which block the harmful effects of variants. With Pediatric MATCH, a study supported by the National Cancer Institute, researchers are trying to identify targeted drugs for the specific variants in pediatric tumors.

“Targeted drugs have gone from a theory to a reality over the past decade,” Parsons said. “This breakthrough has been aided by faster and cheaper tests to pinpoint cancer variants.”

Personalizing treatment can also mean adjusting a patient’s dosage, often leading to a lower risk of side effects and possibly making “a big difference in quality of life both during and after treatment.”

But personalized treatment may go beyond just therapies. Survivorship care can become personalized, especially if late effects are inevitable even after reducing therapy. Survivorship care plans can “help guide the type of care kids will need to lead their healthiest life possible.”

“It’s part of the whole package of cancer treatment,” Nita Seibel, MD, a childhood cancer specialist at NIH, said. “We want to make sure that kids have the highest quality of life possible as survivors.”