How Has Cancer Treatment Improved with Technology?
This article was updated on: 09/15/2018
Most likely, you or someone you know has been affected by cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of American adults will experience a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. In 2016 alone, over 1.6 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease. Fortunately, new cancer treatments and other advances are helping to decrease cancer’s overall death rate. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis is expected to rise to almost 19 million in 2024.
What are the most common cancer treatments?
The American Cancer Society lists the following most common cancer treatments:
- Surgery, which can be used to prevent, diagnose, stage, and/or treat cancer, as well as alleviate symptoms resulting from a cancerous tumor.
- Chemotherapy, in which powerful medications are used to cure or control the spread of the disease.
- Radiation therapy, which uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells.
What are newer treatments for cancer?
- Targeted therapy is a recently developed cancer treatment breakthrough according to the American Cancer Society. Targeted therapy is a very specific type of chemotherapy that targets certain characteristics of the cancer cells that make them different from normal cells, while leaving most healthy cells alone. Some targeted therapy drugs can block or turn off chemical signals the tell cancer cells to grow and divide. Other targeted therapies can stop the body from making new blood vessels to feed the cancer cells. Still others can carry toxins to the cancer cells to kill them but not the healthy cells. This new cancer treatment has different side effects from traditional chemotherapy, and is most often used in combination with other cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.
- Immunotherapyis another fairly recent cancer treatment breakthrough according to the American Cancer Society. Also known as biologic therapy, immunotherapy stimulates the body’s own immune system to be more effective at attacking cancer cells. A type of immunotherapy, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine may help protect against cervical, anal, and throat cancer according to the America Cancer Society. The Food and Drug Administration licensed the HPV vaccine in 2006.
Although immunotherapy has been available as a cancer treatment for a couple of decades, it’s an area of very active research. Immunotherapy researchers are also looking at oncolytic viruses, or germ cells designed to infect and kill cancer. A new cancer treatment currently undergoing testing is an oncolytic virus targeting melanomas that can’t be treated with surgery, according to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
What other procedures and therapies are used as cancer treatment?
Depending on the type and stage of cancer, and the other types of cancer treatments used, oncologists may also recommend one or more of the following:
- Stem cell transplant. Certain types of cancer respond best to high doses of chemotherapy, which destroy stem cells and halt the production of red blood cells by bone marrow. A stem cell transplant lets doctors use higher dosages of chemo to kill cancer cells. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, over the past two decades, stem cell transplant technology has enabled new cancer treatments in hematologic cancers such as lymphoma, and even some solid tumors.
- Hyperthermia. Hyperthermia, the controlled use of high heat to kill cancer cells, is a relatively experimental cancer treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, however, it is showing promise as a way to kill cancer cells and cut off their blood supply, especially for patients who can’t tolerate the stresses of surgical treatment for cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT). During PDT therapy, drugs are given that make cancer cells more sensitive to light before exposing the area to be treated to a concentrated source of light such as a laser or red light. This is a relatively new cancer treatment that isn’t widely available yet, but the American Cancer Society suggests it shows promise as a cancer treatment breakthrough, especially during surgery as a way to prevent cancer recurrence in large parts of the body, such as the lining of the lungs or abdomen.
- Proton therapy. Proton therapy is an extremely precise form of cancer treatment through radiation therapy made possible by recent advances in technology. It has many advantages over traditional radiation therapy as a cancer treatment because it can deliver intense doses of radiation to a tumor without damaging the surrounding healthy tissues. Proton therapy is a cancer treatment breakthrough for treatment of many types of tumors, including brain, breast, eye, head and neck, liver, lung lymphoma and prostate, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic also says that children with cancer may benefit the most from proton therapy, as conventional radiation may damage their developing organs.
- Precision medicine. Precision medicine involves using genetic testing to select the best targeted therapies and other cancer treatments based on the specific genetic characteristics of a particular tumor. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are many clinical trials underway to test new precision medicine drugs that target specific genetic changes in breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, as well as certain types of leukemia and melanoma.
- Hormone therapy. According to the National Cancer Institute, certain types of breast and prostate cancer require hormones produced naturally within the body in order to grow. Hormone therapy blocks the production of those hormones and is used to slow or stop the growth of certain types of cancer and to help prevent recurrence. According to the American Cancer Society, new classes of hormone therapy drugs are a cancer treatment breakthrough for individuals diagnosed with cancer of the breast or prostate.
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