Fighting BackNew Advancements in Cancer Treatment

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The month of September holds multiple observances related to cancer – blood, gynecologic, ovarian, prostate and childhood cancers to be precise. The second leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. (behind heart disease), cancer has affected nearly everyone living in the country in some way. By the end of 2023, it is estimated that 1,958,310 new cases will develop and 609,820 deaths will occur. While the occurrence of most cancers has been declining (none more so than cervical cancer), a few have been on the rise. For men, prostate cancer is becoming more common while in women, instances of melanoma, breast and liver cancers have increased. The good news is that we are getting better at detecting and treating cancers. Since 1991, the rate of cancer deaths has declined 33%.

Science is leading the way and recent new breakthroughs have occurred that will hopefully lower the death rates even further.

Here’s what’s new in the fight against cancer.

Cancer Killing Pills

Currently in Phase 1 Clinical Trials, the newest advance in chemotherapy is a pill that “appears to annihilate all solid tumors,” according to research published August 1 in Cell Chemical Biology. The “kill pill” is proving to be effective at fighting and eliminating a variety of cancerous cells including those associated with cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, skin and lungs. It works by targeting a PCNA (Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen) inhibitor, which is a protein critical to the replication and repair of tumors, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Genetic Testing

Since the human genome was mapped in 2003, researchers have searched for ways to better combat cancer using the new information. It is now possible to analyze the DNA of a tumor and design a personalized therapy that targets the tumor’s weak points. Genetic testing can also be used in prevention by identifying gene mutations that put a person at high risk for different types of cancer. Screening and prevention protocols can then be initiated.

Targeted Immunotherapies

Oncologists can now identify genetic or protein abnormalities in a patient’s tumor and match them up with, or even design, a specific immunotherapy. Multiple new immunotherapies are being developed to use in combination with each other, with existing cancer treatments, or as a stand-alone therapy.

CAR T-Cell Therapy – This process involves reengineering a patient’s own T-cells (white blood cells that focus on specific foreign particles) to attack cancer. During therapy, immune cells are removed from the tumor, selected or altered in the lab to seek and eliminate cancer cells, and reintroduced to the body.

Monoclonal Antibodies – These lab-created proteins bind to cancer cells to help the body’s own immune system better identify them.

Vaccines – Medicines that help the immune system recognize “tumor-associated antigens” that are present in cancer but not in normal cells.

Immune System Modulators – Medicines that can stimulate the immune system to find and attack cancer cells.

Attacking Dormant Cells

Researchers have uncovered a new mechanism that allows breast cancer cells to survive after treatment and hide in the body. After treatment, some cells are able to “escape” and hide in other parts of the body where they remain in a “sleep” state until they wake up and cause the cancer to return as more aggressive and harder to treat. It was found that the cancerous cells were able to survive in softer tissues due to the robust number of antioxidants found there. Blocking certain antioxidants could be a way to destroy the dormant cancer cells with targeted chemotherapy.

Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancers

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease with a five-year survival rate of only 11%. One big reason for this is the difficulty of early detection. By analyzing bacteria in a person’s stool sample, researchers have identified the molecular signature of 27 microorganisms that could predict a person’s risk of developing pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer. Hopefully, with this new information, oncologists can catch the disease in its early stages.

Robotic Surgery and AI

The capabilities of computers, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are growing by leaps and bounds. So much so that researchers, utilizing AI, have been able to develop “digital twins” of people with cancer. Doctors can then use these twins to explore different treatments and predict outcomes. AI is also being used to estimate the probability of certain cancers occurring in populations and locations. Advancements in robotic surgery are allowing cancer patients a faster recovery, using millimeter-precise incisions and movements resulting in less blood loss and pain.

Increased Diversity

Human beings are extremely diverse and when it comes to what medication and treatment works best against cancer, ethnicity and race can play a role. By increasing diversity in clinical trials and in medical professions, researchers are better able to build a database of information that can be considered when choosing the optimal medication or treatment for each person, as well as the susceptibility of each ethnicity or race to develop individual cancers.

Cancer may be humanity’s most common foe. With researchers around the world making great strides to control and rid the world of the disease, many more advancements are due to come.

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