What Are Some of the Biggest Breakthroughs in Cancer Research?
It’s a diagnosis that many of us fear for our friends and family as well as ourselves, but the sad fact is that an estimated one in three people will get cancer at some stage in life. Cancer can affect any part of the body and spread to many other parts of the body if it’s not treated.
Fortunately, many breakthroughs in cancer research and treatment have led to very successful outcomes that have extended lives and even completely eliminated the cancer. Discover more about this disease and how scientists and doctors are making incredible advances.
What Exactly Is Cancer?
Cancer occurs when cells start to change and grow abnormally, often at a very fast rate. This out-of-control growth leads to tumors and organ destruction that are detrimental to health. This can occur with the skin, organs, bones and other tissues.
What Causes Cancer?
In some cases, a defect that is latent in your genes causes your cells to start to grow abnormally. This possible genetic connection to cancer is the reason doctors will always check your family history to see if a close family member has ever been diagnosed with cancer, particularly cancers that are more predisposed to genetic connections, such as bowel or breast cancer.
What Are Some Important Statistics?
Some significant changes have appeared in cancer statistics in the past decade. For example, 2017 saw one of the sharpest one-year drops in cancer death rates ever recorded in the U.S. This was due in part to the amount of money and time put into research for the development of successful treatments for cancer. An estimated 3 million patients have survived cancer in the United States alone since 1991.
Why Are Cancer Cases Increasing?
All of our increasing knowledge on the history of cancer discovery, detection, treatment and possible cures is helpful, but cancer diagnoses are still on the rise in the U.S. In fact, the Global Cancer Observatory estimates that approximately 11 million more people will be diagnosed with cancer worldwide before 2040.
What's Behind the Rising Caseload?
Although those figures may sound alarming, part of the reason for the rise in diagnoses of cancer is because people are living longer, and the risk of cancer increases with age. It’s also easier to accurately diagnose people, thanks to greater awareness of cancer symptoms and better testing methods.
How Has Screening Helped?
When doctors realized years ago that cancer could be in people’s bodies without them realizing it because there weren’t any symptoms, they worked to develop screening methods for cancer. These various tests are used to detect abnormal cells so cancers can be treated early for the best possible outcomes.
How Has Detection Evolved?
After the introduction of cervical screening, the cervical cancer death rate in America declined by an amazing 70%. The 1970s also saw the introduction of imaging tests, which are still used today as one of the first steps in diagnosing many types of cancer.
The Next Frontier of Screening
Although cancer screening methods have already become more accurate, available and affordable over the past few decades, the future of screening continues to evolve. Genetic tests designed to detect changes in your genes that could predict cancer will be more readily available within the next decade as healthcare becomes increasingly personal.
The Most Common Surgical Response
Surgery to remove cancer is still common, particularly with the more tumorous types of cancers. However, much less of the affected area is removed in surgery, and the surrounding tissue is treated with medication or radiation therapy. Some surgical procedures have also evolved into less invasive procedures, which significantly speeds up recovery.
The Future of Cancer Surgeries
Like many other advancements in cancer treatment, the future of surgical options for cancer is on target to become less invasive and more specific. Laser treatments, where lasers are used to cut through tissue or vaporize tumor cells, are becoming more commonplace for cancers of the voice box, skin, liver and other organs.
When x-rays and radiation were first introduced to the medical world, they were used for diagnosis and therapy for cancer. The powerful rays would kill cancer cells, but after they started to be used at the beginning of the 20th century, scientists discovered they both coil also cause cancer.
Radiation Therapy in the Future
Like so much of modern medicine, radiation therapy is moving toward a more personalized approach. Newer technologies are allowing tumors to be exposed to higher doses of radiation with a narrower, higher intensity in delivery.
Chemotherapy involves a chemical cocktail that targets and kills mutated cancer cells. Unfortunately, it can be quite harsh on the body and causes side effects of its own, such as sickness, lethargy and hair loss. However, in many cases its benefits outweigh the temporary negative conditions.
The Future of Chemotherapy
More advanced monitoring technologies are revolutionizing chemotherapy treatments. The changes have the potential to make chemotherapy even more effective in battling multiple types of cancer.
As early as the 19th century, discoveries were made about the potential role of hormones in cancer treatment. Dr. Thomas Beatson at the University of Edinburgh experimented in 1878 on rabbits and found that the breast was "held in control" by the ovaries. When he removed the ovaries of breast cancer patients, he found that the condition improved due to the change in estrogen levels in the body.
How Hormone Therapy Has Advanced
New classes of hormone therapy combination drugs have revolutionized the way certain cancers are fought. Research focusing on understanding how hormones influence cell growth has led to many new drugs for cancer treatment. Among the new drugs are CDK4/6 inhibitors. CDK4 and CDK6 are enzymes that jump start cell division. CDK4/6 inhibitors are drugs designed to fight the cancer cell growth.
CAR T-Cell Therapy
Immune system strength is vital for preventing and fighting many types of diseases. If your immune system can detect and respond to cancer growth in time, it can slow it down or even stop it entirely. In the 1980s, researchers in America investigated this concept with T-cells, which are a type of immune system cell.
CAR T-Cells' Promising Future
While so much of the future of cancer treatment is hyper specific, CAR T-Cells' future actually involves a broadening scope. What does that mean? The treatment method is so promising that researchers are hoping to expand it to a broader range of cancer types and treatments.
A Significant Success Story
After immunotherapy in the form of CAR T-cell therapy had been developed for a few years, rapid positive responses were recorded. In 2012, after government funded trials, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said that almost 90% of children and adolescents with a certain type of leukemia had a total and fast response to treatment with CAR T-cells.
What Are Other Immunity Related Therapies?
Links to cancer and the immune system actually go back to the 1960s, when it was first recognized that both B-cells and T-cells worked to fight off diseases. The drug rituximab, which was FDA approved in 1997, was the first immune treatment that targeted a specific cancer cell protein for lymphoma.
Can Robots Fight Cancer?
Another amazing breakthrough is the use of robotics in order to fight cancer. The Auris Monarch robotic platform was approved by the FDA in 2018. This groundbreaking new tool uses a combination of robotics, software, data analysis and endoscopy to help combat lung cancer, which has the highest cancer death rate in the U.S.
Robots Are Revolutionizing Medicine — But Should They?
Robotic surgeries have become increasingly common within our healthcare industry, for good reason. They offer greater precision and dexterity than their human counterparts, and when they are properly operated, they can be just as safe and effective as their human counterparts.
The Future of Medicine Is Genomic
As science advances, certain techniques that were once thought to be impossible have become quick, affordable and accessible. One of the emerging practices is genomic sequencing, or the mapping of your personal DNA genome. Once thought of as the stuff of fantasy, genomic sequencing can now be accomplished, relatively affordably, in just a few hours.
Personalized Care and Personalized Cures
With the growth of personalized care, genetic testing and genomic treatments comes the growth of personalized immunotherapies. This is a huge advancement, especially for particularly challenging cancers.
The Future Is Bright
As seen throughout this article, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment. Although no single cure for cancer is ever likely to exist — cancer is an all-encompassing term for a variety of cell mutations that must all be treated differently — there are a variety of approaches that are continuing to make significant differences.
Unfortunately, despite their many successes, scientists still face many challenges in their quest to conquer cancer. The sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets of many people around the world have contributed to an increase in certain types of cancer. These habits cause inflammation and metabolic and hormonal problems, which can all lead to cancer.
Leading Drug Breakthroughs
In recent years, lung cancer has gone from a death sentence to something that has a much improved survival rate. One of the main reasons for this is due to groundbreaking drugs, which are either used with surgery or chemo or on their own. They include nivolumab and pembrolizumab, which specifically target squamous non-small cell lung cancer.
Main Focus for Further Breakthroughs
Due to the success of hormone therapy, continued development of this research is also helping doctors learn how to prevent these cancers from forming if someone is genetically predisposed to it. Therefore, different medications with fewer side effects are being tested. This type of precision medicine aims to identify the genetic make-up of different cancer cells carefully so that the ideal treatment drugs can be chosen.
What's Next in the Research Pipeline?
With every passing year, new treatment and detection methods for cancer are discovered and developed. Many of these focus on ways to use genetic testing and manipulation to halt or reverse deadly cellular changes. Others take a look at how certain medications or radiations block mutations in these cells, without changing or harming other tissues around them.
How Important Are Donations to Research Breakthroughs?
In order to help with the early detection, treatment and successful removal of all types of cancer, important research must continue. The future of such life-changing treatments depends on how well doctors and scientists are funded.