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How Innovation is Driving Transformation in Cancer Treatment

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

From new drug therapies to advancements in radiation therapy and promising clinical trials, medical breakthroughs are transforming the way cancer is treated, helping patients live longer, fuller lives. With a growing number of FDA-approved drugs emerging in recent years, this flourish of innovation is creating greater hope for positive outcomes in patients.

That’s a big deal in Texas, where more than 131,000 new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2021.

Immunotherapies: Using the body as the ultimate defense

Immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, is an example of a highly precise and advanced form of cancer treatment. It is becoming increasingly more common and can be used alone or in combination with other treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.

While chemotherapy works by killing cancer cells, it cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and normal cells. Immunotherapy uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to attack cancer cells to stop or slow their growth or limit the cancer’s ability to spread.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, a type of immunotherapy, is considered one of the most promising cancer breakthroughs in recent years. It’s a personalized therapy that involves engineering a patient’s own immune system’s blood cells to attack cancer cells. During the complex procedure, doctors remove some of the patient’s T cells, a type of white blood cell, which are then genetically reprogrammed to identify and attack cancer. Weeks later, doctors then infuse the re-engineered cells back into the patient’s body.

Checkpoint inhibitors: Breaking barriers

Another advancement associated with immunotherapies is checkpoint inhibitors. Think of the human body as having molecules that serve as checkpoints. These checkpoints can determine whether the surrounding cells are healthy or cancerous, fighting those that are deemed cancerous.

Over time, however, cancer cells have found ways to “dupe” the system, so to speak, by hiding behind the checkpoints. Researchers developed drugs with the power to eliminate these molecular checkpoints so the body’s immune system can identify and destroy hiding cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.

The evolving landscape of cancer care

Amazing advancements abound in many facets of cancer care. Evidence-based cancer care goes far beyond providing drug therapies to patients. Exciting research developments that are unrelated to cancer medicines are improving patients’ outcomes and quality of life, such as technology to improve cancer screening, ways to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment, and tools to determine best approaches for treatment. Examples include cooling caps that help prevent hair loss during treatment, greater use of oral chemotherapy (vs. intravenous), and new blood tests on the horizon that will detect cancer. Recently developed blood tests are being used to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream. Blood testing as a wide-spread method of testing for cancer is still in development but continues to hold great promise.

These new approaches are solving previously vexing problems for oncologists and patients. Alongside the quickening pace of progress comes greater optimism and hope for everyone impacted by cancer research.

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