The term “carcinoma”, first used by Hippocrates around 400 BC, has maintained its intractable status throughout 2017, but following in the footsteps of this year’s World Cancer Day, things might finally start to look a bit brighter. This is all long due, really, given the fact that cancer is no new pest.
Based on evidence of fossilized bone tumours found in Egyptian mummies, this one is an ancient disease. All oncological progress aside, it’s quite unfathomable then that it remains the second leading cause of death on a global scale. Will this ever change, and when? And, even more importantly, how?
Here’s what the future holds for cancer patients, according to the newest trends and findings.
The Nearly Achieved Balance for Cancer Clinical Research
In the summer of 2017, nearly 40,000 cancer experts gathered in Chicago for the world’s largest annual meeting, organized and hosted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Besides targeted treatment trials and immunotherapy, both of which we’ll talk more in the preceding, prostate cancer progress has been a major topic of discussion, with results from two large clinical trials to back it up.
On this year’s World Cancer Day, the GlobalData Healthcare revealed conclusions of 800 more clinical trials, initiated and concluded on top ten cancer-inflicted locations around the globe. And, prostate cancer was not the only field of research. The GlobalData Pharma Intelligence Center’s tackled both types of cancers with known treatments and types of cancers for which therapy was yet unapproved.
In terms of balancing out global clinical trials, the majority of which has thus far been focused on improving treatments for prevalent cancers such as breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, this new inclusion of rarer forms of cancer, primarily gastric cancer, acute myelocytic leukemia, and ovarian cancer, is very promising. Hopefully, we’ll see this research trend continue beyond this year.
Clinical Trials Expanding in Cancer Fight
Thanks to a $60,000 grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System’s Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Care Program was last year able to help 25-year-old Nichole Dorontich and hundreds of her coevals enrol in clinical trials that offer more than radiation.
The same foundation has awarded more than $232 million since 2005 and more than $25.7 million in 2017, all allocated to different healthcare organizations that receive patients afflicted with cancer.
This type of funding and clinical trials represent a true mainstay of a practical fight against cancer, especially those kinds of tumours that cannot be treated with chemo and radiation alone, and especially when patients are too young, too old, or too geographically isolated to seek better solutions.
Promising News from the Front of Precision Oncology
The precision oncology, or in a broader sense, the precision medicine, is both a concept and a practice that flirts with a targeted approach to treating heterogeneous diseases at a cellular or molecular level.
The targeted approach refers to treatments that are custom-tailored to every patient individually and based on their medical background, genetic predispositions, and a specific type of disease they’ve been afflicted with. In terms of our “War on Cancer”, such personalized approach is long-awaited.
Among all heterogeneous diseases, cancer is by far the most challenging one – not only are there numerous types of tumours, but the same types are known to behave in different ways when affecting the well-being of different patients. Precision oncology aims to detect and attack these differences.
Unfortunately, its results have been somewhat limited so far, presumably thanks to an insufficient number of tumour samples and inadequate access to specific therapeutic agents. But, the theoretical concept of precision oncology is still too good to be dismissed. We’re waiting for practice to catch on.
Cognitive Computing and Other Interdisciplinary Measures
Another significant shift in both clinical research and actual cancer treatments can be traced back to interesting interdisciplinary collaborations that were initiated over the last couple of years. And with that, we’re finally approaching the overlapping field of modern medicine and applicable technology.
In 2017, the respectable medical journal JAMA published the long-awaited results of a digital medicine trial conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The majority of participants, all of them being patients with solid tumours, demonstrated a fairly large increase in overall survival thanks to a web-based tool that allowed them to report their progress and symptoms to physicians in real time.
And, this type of tool is not even the last word of technology.
State-of-the-art solutions bring AI and IBM’s Watson to mind – the first digital assistant to match and even beat, medical experts in diagnosing appropriate treatments for cancer patients. Similar advancements in the field of cognitive computing may help precision oncology as well, while wearable health tracking devices already allow us to monitor patients and catch aggravating symptoms early on.
Looking Forward to Novel Therapy Methods
Speaking of sophisticated technology, the laser therapy is now another buzzword in oncology circles. It combines the targeted approach of precision medicine with the targeted approach in another, more literal sense of the word, by shrinking or destroying tumours with a highly precise high-intensity light.
Though still in its early days, immunotherapy now promises a whole other approach to treating cancer. By using very little but the patient’s own immune system, it may someday soon turn the course of the War on Cancer towards less aggressive and more organic types of treatments. In one small study from the John Hopkins University, involving 86 patients and 21 different cancer types, more than “half of tumours carrying a distinctive type of heavy genetic damage responded to the immunotherapy drug”.
Epigenetic and cell-based therapies are moving forward as well, the first switching genes on and off to prevent the development of certain cancers, and the other manipulating the patient’s white cells into attacking tumours. Both of them are still being researched, but showcase encouraging results.
Supported by both technology and public awareness, the ongoing fight against cancer may not carry the day just yet, but will certainly become a bit easier and much more triumphant than ever before. Though the miracle cure is nowhere in sight, precision oncology, immunotherapy, and other less conventional types of treatments are slowly but steadily changing the future of cancer medicine.