They are the three words you never want to hear from your doctor: You have cancer. But recent advances in analysis and treatment of many different types of the disease are giving cancer patients new hope.

According to Dr. Robert DiPaola, the director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, precision medicine, which involves gene sequencing of a patient's cancer, can individualize a treatment plan — and make it more effective.

“It’s given doctors the chance to better understand a patient’s cancer and start to identify agents, or targeted agents that might be more effective in their particular tumor," he said. "There’s no doubt that in many instances it’s been very clear that finding the specific genetic abnormality and using a therapy that targets that pathway has had effectiveness.”

He said because of the expansion of technology there are many more opportunities to identify other genes that may be impacted in the cancer process, “and in our clinical trials we may be able to add other targeted therapies to help patients fight their cancers.”

DiPaola said that means going forward, doctors will not only look at a specific genetic abnormality tied to a specific drug, “but do more of a comprehensive screen of a patient’s cancer and see if we can find the multiple genetic abnormalities that might be causing their cancer.”

He said that in cases where standard therapies have not been effective, patients at the Cancer Institute have an opportunity to go though gene sequencing of their tumors —and a team of doctors, researchers and other experts will meet and review the data, then make recommendations for a therapy plan.

As analysis gets more advanced, researchers are discovering a much wider range of many different types of cancers – so it makes sense to use very specific types of therapies that may be more effective, DiPaola said.

“I think this is key to us getting to that next step,” he said. “What it can lead to and should lead to is more effectiveness to the therapies that we’re giving, and then hopefully this will lead us eventually to the cure of these advanced cancers.”