The National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo is set to seek government approval for its plan to provide individualized cancer treatment based on a patient's genome information.

If approved, the national health insurance program will cover a patient's visits to a doctor and medical checks, although the individual would still have to bear the costs of genetic profiling, which runs to the hundreds of thousands of yen.

Other medical institutions are expected to follow suit.

The government aims to cover a portion of such care under the national health insurance program from fiscal 2019.

The treatment involves studying more than 100 genes in cancer cells and identifying the ones responsible for mutations.

Testing will allow doctors to determine the drugs best suited for treating the disease. This approach is expected to be more effective than existing cancer therapies as doctors will be in a position to tailor the chemotherapy treatment for individual patients.

Cancer characteristics vary from patient to patient, even if they suffer from the same cancer.

Genetic profiling has been done at several facilities as part of clinical research and therapies that fall outside of the provisions of the national health insurance program system.

The National Cancer Center Hospital is expected to submit its application to start offering advanced care revolving around genome sequencing in January.

If an expert panel at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare gives its approval, the treatment will become available at the hospital in early fiscal 2018, making it the first facility in Japan to offer it.

Cancers flare when the mutation or change of one or more genes takes place during the copying of genes in a cell.

In medical treatment based on genome information, cancer and normal cells are extracted to glean a patient's DNA using equipment in a test dubbed the next-generation sequencer.

Experts determine the optimal therapy for the patient in question from a range of existing therapies based on the test results.

That will give patients more treatment options in accordance with their gene mutations in addition to existing therapies targeted at organs where the cancer originated.

Individualized cancer care is intended for patients with recurring cancer or advanced-stage cancer, for whom “standard treatment” is no longer considered effective, according to the National Cancer Center Hospital.

The genome sequencing at the hospital involves a comprehensive analysis of 117 cancer-related genes to identify those that caused the cancer.

The hospital will also provide counseling to families of patients upon request if the disease proves to be hereditary.

The National Cancer Center Hospital decided to act after the Cabinet in October approved its third basic plan to reduce cancer deaths by designating hub hospitals for cancer treatment based on genome information.

Medical institutions aspiring to be selected as hub hospitals must show they have the ability to offer treatment involving genome analysis.

The ministry is set to name 12 or so hospitals by the end of fiscal 2017, which ends next March.

The ministry will also appoint hospitals in each of the 47 prefectures that are expected to closely work with hub hospitals.

Several potential challenges were pointed out by medical experts: When genetic testing fails to identify mutations, the seemingly best therapy based on genome analysis is not available in Japan or sensitive genetic information might lead to discrimination against patients.