Finding a cure for cancer – the very phrase sends a shiver down the spine, as there is not one of us who has not lost a loved one or been personally affected by cancer. Seeking a cure has become the holy grail in medical research.
A cure per se might still be a long way off, but the range of treatments that are available is growing rapidly, as each passing year delivers new insights and knowledge. Slowly but surely, the outlook for patients suffering from cancer is becoming brighter.
Innovative treatments are becoming available to patients at a faster rate than ever. To put the development into context, over the 12 months from November 2015 to October 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved some 20 new therapies for a dozen different types of cancer.
Staying informed to make the right choices
This speed of development, along with changing attitudes within the medical profession, meaning that it is more important than ever for patients and their loved ones to stay informed and knowledgeable about their conditions and the available treatments.
A generation ago, we very much placed ourselves in the hands of our doctors when it came to deciding on treatment. Of course, we still rely on them to advise us, but the 21st century is all about choice and personalization. We are not all automotive experts, but we research the pros and cons of different cars and don’t just buy whatever the dealership recommends, so surely, we should make similarly informed decisions when it comes to medical treatment?
It sounds like a strange comparison, but it is a concept that the medical profession is keen to promote and when you think about it, it makes sense. When choosing a car, you might consider running costs compared with performance and comfort. When considering cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatments, you will be weighing up potential effectiveness against side effects.
Given that a cancer treatment is far more important than any consumer purchase we might make, it seems crazy to think that we go into it with less information or discussion. However, the truth is that doctors have limited time to talk through all the options, and patients are not always in the right frame of mind to think with complete objectivity.
Thankfully, we live in the information age. The internet provides more information than has ever been available before, if you know where to look, and is something that should be used to the utmost. Oncotarget is an ideal online resource that covers the latest news and advances in the subject of oncology.
One of the most rapidly advancing areas is that of immunotherapy. Over the course of 2016, the FDA approved immunotherapy treatments for advanced forms of six different types of cancer.
Immunotherapy uses aspects of the patient’s immune system to combat cancer, either by stimulating it to work harder to attack the cancer cells or by adding man-made proteins that are specifically designed to target and fight cancer.
For many, the results are genuinely life changing. Immunotherapy literally offers a lifeline when it seems that hope is all but lost. However, it is important to bear in mind that while there have been some exciting results from this type of treatment, the whole discipline of immunotherapy is still very much in its infancy.
The initial range of treatments have shown some remarkable results, but there is still much to be done. Specifically, researchers are focusing on the following shortcomings:
- Fewer than half the patients treated with immunotherapy saw a benefit
- Those who benefited often found that the results were short-lived.
Despite the problems, immunotherapy is one of the most exciting branches of cancer treatment being researched, and the work is continuing tirelessly.
Researching rare diseases
Another area that has had a significant impact in cancer research has been the work performed on rare diseases. The connection might not be immediately obvious, but the point is that most rare diseases are linked to problems that can be narrowed down to a specific gene in the patient’s DNA.
This in-depth genetic research opens doors to understand more about cellular biology and gene mutation, which are the processes that lead to the development of cancer.
A bright future
Perhaps the greatest potential lies in a combination of these different research strands. A combination of immunotherapy treatments, gene therapy and, perhaps other better-known cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy mean there is more hope for cancer sufferers than ever before. And every year, the possibilities widen.