Cancer Treatment Is Getting Smarter
Cancer isn’t one disease, despite having the one name. It is a myriad of different conditions, each one affecting different places in the body and having their own individual causes and modes of attack. The ways of treating all these types of cancers, however, has been relatively the same for all.
Until recently. New advances in cancer research are revealing better ways to target, treat and cure cancers – giving the treatments a greater chance of affecting the specific cancer they are after, and doing less damage to the patient through side effects and inappropriate medications.
Cancer gene therapy is one avenue of help. Many cancer medications help only half of the people who take them, leading to unnecessary side effects, big cost to the healthcare system, and precious wasted time for patients. Now researchers are discovering differences in the genetic makeup between patients who will benefit from a drug, and ones who won’t. This will make for much more specific targeting of drugs to people. An example of this is colon cancer, where every patient is supposed to get a genetic test before being prescribed one of two costly drugs, to see which will help them.
Gene testing for cancer is in its infancy, and much more work needs to be done. Tests currently underway will help to target breast and lung cancer treatments; help to decide if tumours are fast or slow growing; and pinpoint more medications which help some patients, but not others. Another way to attack cancer cells takes its cue from the military – smart bomb them. Nanotechnology – the science of the incredibly small – is developing microscopic medicine carriers that can take a medication directly to the cancer cells, releasing it only where it will do the most good.
This approach – already in development and human trials at the BC Cancer Agency – can vastly reduce the collateral damage done by powerful cancer drugs as they travel through the body in their search for tumours. It also saves all of the drug’s powerful punch for where it is needed, permitting less overall dosing. The implications for more effective treatment with less patient discomfort are heartening.
The tests aren`t complete, and the new therapies are experimental at best, with much more data to be collected. But as the days of one-size-fits-all cancer treatment fade into history, laboratories around the world are starting to make inroads into one of the most pervasive diseases of our time.