July 6, 2013
The C word scares most of us. The thought of any cancer means lots of medical attention just to try to put cancer in remission. And then there is the potential of relapses. But, before patients can even get to remission and possible relapse, most have to undergo chemotherapy, which is almost as harsh and dangerous as the cancer itself. Once someone is diagnosed with a cancer, the procedure is surgery to remove as much of the malignant tumor and lesions as possible, then chemotherapy agents dissolve these from within the body, and then radiation seeks and destroys abnormally dividing cells. For many, this process has helped to move cancer into remission, but it is hard on the mind and body, and has effects that last the rest of a patient’s life.
But these steps have worked. As CNN explains, deaths from cancer have dropped 20 percent in the past two decades. The CNN article also identifies new options for cancer treatment, some that are not quite as harsh as the current surgery to chemo to radiation process.
So, what are these up and coming new options? Well, researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) describe one new option as less like a carpet bombing that chemo does and more a “‘smart bomb’ strategies for leveling an enemy — in this case, a fast-growing mass of cells that can strangle and starve surrounding normal tissues.” Specifically, it is a more targeted therapy treatment option for treating and eliminating cancer.
The targeted therapies “are aimed at specific pathways that tumor cells use to thrive, blocking them in the same way that monkeying with a car’s ignition, or it’s fuel intake, can keep it from running properly. The advantage of such precise strategies is that they leave healthy cells alone, which for patients means fewer side effects and complications.” These “target an active receptor on immune cells responsible for enticing them to grow out of control, blocking the protein and essentially shutting down two different type of leukemia tumors.” From this, the NEJM researchers found an 83% survival rate after being treated for two years in the test patients.
Moreover, the new findings in the NEJM are not the only alternatives to chemo for cancer patients. In the early 2000s, doctors found that using imatinib and Gleevec (then the first drugs to change directions from chemo) for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) improved survival rates.
CNN further reports, “Patients who develop certain types of lung cancer or melanoma caused by a cancer-promoting mutation known as BRAF are also starting to replace toxic chemotherapy agents with new, more precise medications designed to thwart the BRAF pathway. And a study presented at the most recent meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology showed for the first time that a chemotherapy-free regimen led to a higher survival rate after two years than traditional chemotherapy for acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.”
We can only assume that more alternatives to chemo will present themselves in the future. And that is good.
If you have ever known someone who suffered with cancer and chemotherapy, then you know how hard it is. To know that there are more options for patients than just the regular regiment means that fewer people will have to deal with the pain and agony of chemotherapy. Additionally, this also means that we are getting closer and closer to better understanding how to cure cancer.
Cancer is one scary disease. The more research we have on it, the more options for treatment, means the more we will be able to live happy, healthy lives.
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