Early detection is critical: More and more emphasis is being placed on detecting cells likely to become cancers and how to eliminate those because it’s so important to catch cancer early.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. There is so much great information out there, but sometimes it is very difficult to filter out the noise. What causes cancer? Can it be prevented? How do you detect it? What are the odds of survival today? What are the different forms of cancer? What are the best treatments? And what is the best way to support someone impacted by cancer?

In this interview series called, “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer” we are talking to experts about cancer such as oncologists, researchers, and medical directors to address these questions. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Druley.

Todd Druley, MD, PhD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of Mission Bio, previously establishing his career as a board-certified pediatric oncologist and tenured physician-scientist in molecular genomics at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Todd’s research program focused on improving molecular diagnostics for a variety of cancers, but specifically myeloid leukemia. He has published over 60 peer reviewed manuscripts, patented error-corrected next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods to improve the detection of acute myeloid leukemia measurable residual disease (AML MRD) by NGS and built clinical programs based on genetic predisposition to cancer. Before joining Mission Bio, he was the CMO of ArcherDx.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was raised in a small farm town, Princeton, Illinois. My father was an agricultural researcher, working on corn breeding for Pioneer Hi-Bred. My mother stayed at home to raise my younger sister and myself. It was a very idyllic childhood.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I learned genetics by working with my father in the corn fields during the summers, but I was always interested in medicine and human disease. My PhD work was studying mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance, but during that time, my cousin’s 3-year old son developed leukemia and died while waiting for a bone marrow transplant. It was then that I knew enough about cancer to identify where the gaps were for children, which prompted me to pursue pediatric oncology as a physician-scientist.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

Cancer affects almost every person in some way. I’ve sat with families saying goodbye to their children far more times than I’d like. While modern medicine has done some really amazing things, cancer remains a global problem despite decades of research and billions of dollars. Collectively, we have to do better. It’s as simple as that. If I have the ability and opportunity to facilitate some hope and better outcomes for individuals and families out there, then it’s my job to join thousands of other experts and caregivers to make the effort.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’ve always been excited about using new technology to improve disease understanding and care for cancer patients. Mission Bio offers the only DNA and protein analysis tool with resolution down to single cells. Our goal is not only to identify when a patient has new or recurrent cancer but provide the oncologist with information to match the best treatment option. I’m excited because more and more oncologists, pathologists and drug developers are realizing the potential and asking really challenging questions that will highlight the power of our platform.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of Cancer?

I have a PhD in molecular oncology and an MD in pediatric hematology and oncology. I treated children with all types of cancers and bone marrow transplant recipients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where I established the region’s first clinic for children with cancer predisposition syndromes. In addition, I have published over 60 peer reviewed clinical and translational cancer research articles. I’ve written a book on measurable residual disease (MRD) measurement in cancer, and I have been the Chief Medical Officer for three cancer-related biotechnology startup companies.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with some basic definitions so that we are all on the same page. What is exactly cancer?

Cancer is a generic term for dozens, if not hundreds, of different diseases where a cell changes in a way that it grows uncontrollably. The body’s systems to repair cellular damage or limit cellular growth are no longer effective, so these cells usually grow rapidly at various places throughout the body. This uncontrollable growth causes tremendous, and often, irreparable damage wherever it is expanding.

What causes cancer?

There are many ways that cancer can evolve, but the end result is uncontrollable cell growth due to cell damage. Imagine asking someone how you would go from Los Angeles to New York City — there must be 1000 different ways to get there — but in the end, you arrive at the same destination. Damage to the various cellular mechanisms that control cellular repair, movement throughout the body, when to grow, when to interact with other parts of the body — these are just a few examples of how damage to a healthy cell can result in a cell that no longer behaves as it should and starts to grow out of control, leading to cancer.

What is the difference between the different forms of cancer?

Cancers are generally known by the type of cell that becomes damaged and grow out of control. The medical names usually refer to the cell type. For example, leukemias start from white blood cells and are blood cancers; lymphomas start from cells in lymph nodes. If a cancer starts from the lining of a “solid” tissue such as lung, breast, kidney, liver, or intestine, it is called a carcinoma. Connective tissues, such as bone or cartilage, result in cancers called sarcomas. These are only a few examples, but the names really refer to the origin.

I know that the next few questions are huge topics, but we’d love to hear your thoughts regardless. How can cancer be prevented?

As we mentioned above, anything that damages cells are more likely to cause cancer, which is why most cancers occur in older adults because they’ve had more lifespan to accumulate different types of damage. Therefore, avoiding this damage can reduce one’s risk for developing cancer, but it is not a guarantee. Some of these things we can control, like smoking or excessive sun exposure, but our bodies aren’t perfect. We are a collection of trillions of cells all working together, so sometimes these mistakes are bad luck.

How can one detect the main forms of cancer?

There are many ways to detect cancer, but none are perfect. Historically, imaging studies with X-rays, CT scans, and MRI were the main ways to detect cancer. Blood or urine tests for cancer-related proteins, like the PSA test for prostate cancer, have also been around for decades. Newer tests often employ some type of DNA or RNA analysis, which gives these tests more sensitivity than older tests.

Cancer used to almost be a death sentence, but it seems that it has changed today. What are the odds of surviving cancer today?

The odds of surviving cancer are as variable as the types of cancer, but in general, the era of high-throughput genetic analysis has resulted in more precise treatment options, which in turn offer a greater chance at living longer with the disease, if not an outright cure.

Can you share some of the new cutting-edge treatments for cancer that have recently emerged? What new cancer treatment innovations are you most excited to see come to fruition in the near future?

As someone who has spent most of their career developing diagnostic and surveillance technology, my opinion is that a personalized treatment is only as good as the tool used to match a treatment to a patient. With that said, I’m very excited by the powerful and diverse ways that new treatments take advantage of a patient’s own immune system to specifically attack the cancer with far less collateral damage to healthy tissues than older treatments. These “immunotherapies” have many applications outside of cancer as well, and they highlight how powerful our bodies can be when given the right nudge.

Healing usually takes place between doctor visits. What have you found to be most beneficial to assist a patient to heal?

Every patient is different and approaches their diagnosis, treatment, and healing in their own unique way. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. In general, I believe that patients are more likely to heal effectively when they 1) have a positive support system, 2) have hope and/or goals that are realistic and achievable, and 3) practice healthy nutrition and moderate exercise, which promotes a healthy immune system.

From your experience, what are a few of the best ways to support a loved one, friend, or colleague who is impacted by cancer?

Having cancer can be an incredibly isolating experience. People miss their friends, coworkers, and important life events. They can’t travel or do the things they want to do. Just letting someone know that “I may not fully understand what you’re going through, but I want you to know that I care about you and am here to support you as best I can” will often mean very, very much to someone dealing with cancer. Maybe it’s bringing a few groceries, taking their dog for a walk, getting the kids to and from their events — it doesn’t have to be huge or profound to let someone know that you’re there to support them through a dark period.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

I think the term “fighting” can sometimes be misleading. In many cases, a patient can do everything that is asked of them before, during, and after a diagnosis or treatment and still have a terrible result. When others attribute that bad outcome to the patient “not fighting hard enough,” it can be hurtful and demoralizing. Sometimes it just isn’t enough. Unfortunately, there are many myths passed around on social media that are unhelpful at best and hurtful at worst. Suggestions that the medical community can’t be trusted and folk remedies are superior to modern medicine usually put patients in a difficult position and can really hinder them receiving the optimal therapy.

Thank you so much for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are your “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Early detection is critical: More and more emphasis is being placed on detecting cells likely to become cancers and how to eliminate those because it’s so important to catch cancer early.
  2. Moral support is one of the most important treatments for cancer patients: As we mentioned, a cancer diagnosis is extremely isolating at any age, gender, ethnic background, and race — be there for the patients and their families as much as you can.
  3. From chemo to immunotherapy to surgery, cancer treatment is unique for each and every patient: There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to cancer treatment, especially as the number of treatment options continues to grow. Technology must be able to provide the oncologist with precise treatment options for each patient.
  4. Cancer researchers are making groundbreaking discoveries every day: In general, cancer patients are living longer with their disease due to the incredible pace of understanding and knowledge that researchers, both in academia and the pharmaceutical industry, are unveiling about all types of cancer.
  5. Advocate for your own health: So many people are afraid to see the doctor and hear something bad, losing precious time that could be spent dealing with whatever issue exists. Be proactive and involved in your healthcare. If not for you, do it for your family and friends.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Personalized and precision cancer treatment for all. The more we learn about cancer, the more we learn about all the ways our amazing bodies keep us healthy. This diversity demands that we bring the best of technology and bioinformatics to diagnose, treat, and monitor every person’s cancer in a unique and thoughtful manner.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on LinkedIn or X (@DruleyMB_CMO) and stay updated with Mission Bio on our website and on LinkedIn and X (@MissionBio).

Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.