Cancer treatment developments move slowly—terrifyingly so to those affected by it. And yet there is no denying that modern medicine has improved things tremendously. The odds of surviving cancer are expected to go up by around 24% over the next decade.
How? Through new treatment options that get developed every day. It would be impossible to provide a comprehensive guide to every cancer research development that is currently in the works. Below, we have only an overview of some of the most exciting treatment options that are being explored and tested.
When scientists mapped out the human genome all the way back in 2003 it suddenly opened the door to incredible advances in personalized healthcare. For cancer treatment, small decisions can have an enormous impact.
Genetic testing has the potential to let doctors analyze the DNA of a person’s tumor and use that information to come up with a strategy custom fit for their needs. Instead of embarking on an endless cycle of chemo and radiation, the doctors may receive clear insights into exactly how to treat this specific cancer.
Not only would this improve overall patient outcomes, but it also has the potential to alleviate unnecessary short-term suffering. Chemo and radiation both come with very difficult side effects. While this may be unavoidable to an extent, genetic testing could potentially minimize it by optimizing the treatment plan for only the options that are necessary and effective.
The jury is still out on Loxo-305. Its first round of clinical trials came back just last year, which in medicine time is barely a blink. Still, the results that researchers found were encouraging. Loxo-305 is designed specifically for patients with Leukemia or Lymphoma who haven’t had much luck with traditional forms of treatment.
Though certainly not to be mistaken for a cure, the findings were exciting. Not only did patients respond well to the drug, but they met it with minimal side effects. Time will be the ultimate test but for now, it looks like there is a small ray of hope pertaining to one of the most difficult cancers to treat.
Bladder cancer tends to spread quickly and keeps coming back. Scientists say that up to 25% of bladder cancer cases fall into this high-risk category. Opdivo is an immunotherapy drug that was presented in 2021.
It has been designed to specifically slow or stop the spread and recurrence of bladder cancer. It doesn’t get rid of the tumors themselves—other forms of treatment are required to accomplish that. It can, however, aid other treatment methods by ensuring that cancer won’t keep coming back.
In the spring of last year, the FDA approved a new form of prostate cancer treatment that makes it much easier to identify and attack cancerous cells. Historically, one of the challenges of treating prostate cancer has been that it’s difficult to be sure all remnants of the tumor have been dealt with.
A therapy currently referred to as Lu-PSMA-617 changes this. The treatment plan requires an imaging test that lights up cancer cells that would otherwise be invisible. Using that information, the doctor is then able to target those specific spots aggressively to improve their odds of removing all traces of the cancer.
Gastric and esophageal cancer is also starting to get approached through the immunotherapy lens. In 2021, the FDA approved an accelerated research phase for an immunotherapy drug (pembrolizumab) that specifically targets a gene called HER2, which is present in one out of every four gastric or esophageal cancer cases.
This treatment option specifically targets the HER2 element while other, more traditional forms of cancer treatment address the rest of the tumor. Like so many of these developments, we are still in the early stages of seeing what this treatment course can do. Nevertheless, the prospects are promising: a powerful way to treat cancers that have previously been difficult to handle.
Pancreatic cancer tends to be a very difficult diagnosis. It spreads quickly, it’s difficult to fight back. Yet, there have historically been cases of people surviving for many years without experiencing growth or spreading. Why?
Last year, scientists found that this is because the lucky patients’ immune systems are naturally beating the cancer back, making sure it doesn’t spread.
MSK—a drug company—is currently trying to replicate this process through a messenger RNA vaccine that would seek out and attack cancer cells in the pancreas, keeping them from spreading.
Unfortunately, this process is still in its very early stages, with the phase 1 trial reaching completion in the summer of 2021. Still, the implications are significant for the future treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Most people with lung cancer receive a combination of radiation and chemo to shrink and eliminate the tumors. Unfortunately, chemotherapy, particularly after the patient has reached the surgery stage of treatment is rarely effective, producing positive outcomes in just 5% of lung cancer patients.
People still opt for the treatment because at that point it may be all that is left to them. However, for 95% of patients, this means suffering through painful, difficult side effects that do them no good at all.
Scientists are currently identifying biomarkers that make it easier to determine which patients will actually benefit from chemotherapy, and which won’t.
The implications of this research could be significant, at once better informing patients of their options and empowering them to make choices most conducive to their health and comfort.
Unfortunately, most of the treatments described above are in some form of developmental level. Though all are available at the clinical level, widespread availability could be years away for most, if not all of them.
This means that they probably won’t be much good for the majority of people who are suffering from cancer right now. There are exceptions, certainly, but mostly the world will need to wait for researchers to complete the exhaustive process that goes into bringing a cancer treatment option to the broader public.
Science is slow but that’s for the best, helping to ensure that the treatment plans brought to market are both safe and effective.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from cancer, consider asking your physicians about what clinical trial options are available. This route provides no guarantees, but it can expand your options, and through good healthcare management practices, your current team of providers should be able to point you in the right direction.