CAMBRIDGE — John White, a retired North Attleborough bioengineer, was diagnosed in early 2015 with aggressive prostate cancer. It had spread to his bladder and pelvic lymph nodes. It didn’t respond to hormone therapy and chemotherapy. His oncologist feared White might have only a year to live.

Then scientists at Foundation Medicine, a Cambridge, Mass., biotech, ran a new diagnostic test to sequence the DNA of cancer cells in his prostate gland, which had been surgically removed. The bad news was that he had a rare form of the disease, marked by an extraordinary number of genetic changes in the cancerous cells. The good news: The new test showed that he might respond to any of three new immunotherapy drugs.

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