Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Genetics and genomics: What can our genes tell us about cancer?

Our genes decide virtually everything about us. Can our genes also help uncover information about how to control cancer if it develops? First, we need to understand more about genetics versus genomics. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, different. 

In this short video, Dr. Maurie Markman, President of Medicine and Science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, sheds light on the terms “genetics” and “genomics,” and the differences between the two.

“I would use the term genetic referring to the genes that are present in an individual since birth, and genomics to describe the genes that may be making a tumor,” says Dr. Markman.

More specifically, the term genetic refers to the traits you inherit from your parents. While most cancers occur by chance or sporadically, some result from genetic changes that are inherited, such as a BRCA mutation. Genetic testing can help determine if your cancer was due to an inherited gene mutation.

The term genomics, on the other hand, refers to the DNA mutations, or changes, that drive the growth of cancer. Genomic testing can help determine the unique genetic mutations or changes occurring within the tumor itself. The hope is that identifying the genetic profile of a person’s tumor may possibly reveal more targeted treatment options for that specific cancer.

Today, genomic testing remains investigational. There are currently no specific clinical guidelines as to who is eligible or appropriate for genomic testing, as it depends on the tumor type and other individual factors. The clinicians at CTCA have been using genomic testing for several years. Learn about genomic tumor assessment at our cancer hospitals.

Explore the Cancer Genetics Programs at our hospitals in Philadelphia, suburban Atlanta, suburban Chicago, and Tulsa.

Read our newsletter about cancer genetics and risk.