We’d like to give a shout out to General Motors and their Chevy brand for highlighting World Cancer Day during the Superbowl. While breast cancer has a whole month, it seems appropriate that all of cancer should have at least one day. We polled our doctors recently about what breakthroughs they’re looking forward to in cancer research, and a strong 57 percent are most excited about personalized medicine and gene therapy.
Personalized medicine for cancer
Millions of possible combinations make up a person’s DNA. By testing for specific traits, geneticists can work with physicians to produce a protocol that is optimized for each patient. Therapies can be targeted to each patient’s unique cancer signature. Cancer cells alter DNA, which will also be able to be tested and treated once researchers target the markers that will impact the tumor. Imagine if all we had to do was inject a DNA strand into a tumor and watch it shrivel as the cells die off with no need for radiation or chemotherapy.
We have a long way to go identifying genetic markers, but researchers are working furiously to identify them as soon as possible. They are also being helped along by Big Data, which is compiling results to help pinpoint areas for further research.
Finding cancer vaccines
Cancer immunotherapy, the area of research looking for cancer vaccines, has struggled in recent years. Many potential vaccines have failed in late stage trials. Currently, we have Provenge, a prostate cancer vaccine that helps to thwart recurrence, and the widely distributed HPV vaccine designed to prevent cervical and esophageal cancer in women and men respectively.
There is hope for a breast cancer vaccine, which is expected to go into human trials in the next 24 months, and a pancreatic cancer vaccine shows some increase in life expectancy. Researchers are learning from their trials and within a few years we maysee an array of vaccine options. If we can use the gene typing mentioned above to target patients with the greatest susceptibility to certain cancers, physicians could then match them with an appropriate vaccine, perhaps delaying or preventing the onset of cancer.
Better screening techniques
Finding cancer early is always the best approach, and cancer screening techniques have been improving. New lung cancer screening guidelines came out last fall and pancreatic cancer screenings have been getting some buzz, so there is a lot of hope in this area of research.
As we get better at all three approaches the end result is better patient care and outcomes. Catching cancer early through better screening, preventing tumor growth and using our personal genetics to pinpoint effective therapies should all result in lower fatalities and higher quality of life for cancer patients. As an M.D. or D.O. we discuss this topic regularly inside Sermo. Please feel free to join our online physicians for further discussion.