New developments target cancer much more effectively than previously possible
No diagnosis creates more fear for the patient than that of cancer. Half a century ago, being informed that you had cancer was tantamount to a death sentence. Almost any form of this disease was considered fatal and identifying its presence usually meant that it was only a matter of time until the carcinoma claimed the patient’s life. Clinical therapy at that time was quite helpless, with only a handful of methods available in a just few cases to revert this fate. However, modern medicine has made substantial progress in both detection treatment; significantly prolonging life. The last decade especially has witnessed several important breakthroughs and the ultimate goal to cure cancer once and for all is coming ever closer.
Progress in Surgery
Surgery is undertaken when the cancer identified is solid. Why is surgery today better than 30 years before? Do they have sharper knives? “Yes, indeed,” answers Dr. Nick Plowman, an oncology consultant based in London’s Harley Street. He continues: “When it comes to surgery, some new techniques have helped the curative results, from neurosurgery to bowel surgery, but also a more educated timing of surgery in the more complex management of cancer – e.g. for some larger breast and stomach cancers, the use of chemotherapy first to shrink the cancer and thereby facilitating curative cancer surgery after a while.”
Examples of the ability to perform more accurate incisions are the Gamma-Knife and Cyber-Knife, which are basically two ultra-sophisticated techniques. They enable surgery on solid tumours, in the brain and the liver without leaving any scar. A focused beam of radiation is used to melt down cancerous tissue and the whole procedure is controlled by a 3 D robotic radiation mechanism, which targets an area defined in millimetres.
Radiation therapy has also progressed in leaps and bounds over the past few years. “Recently, the ability to concentrate radiation therapy more focally spares the potential collateral damage to adjacent issues in another way… the radiation dose gradient is so steep at the edge of the targeted cancer that the ‘innocent bystander’ normal tissues lying adjacent to the cancer receive so little dose that they have a much reduced chance of damage,” says Dr. Plowman. “When using one of these focal radiation methods, it is now possible to use one or only a few treatments of huge size, enough to ablate a cancer, as the sparing of adjacent tissues is obtained by the focality of dose delivery. Three competing technologies – Gamma Knife, Cyberknife and Proton Beam Therapy each have advantages and disadvantages,” he adds.
Proton Beam Therapy
There are a few centres in the world offering this form of treatment and one of the most advanced is the Rhinecker Proton Therapy Center (RPTC) in Munich. Installed in early 2009, this state-of-the-art facility utilises computer controlled guidance of the radiation beam, which exactly eradicates the tissue in the computerised area. “We use a precision targeting system,” explains Prof. Herbst, Medical Director at RPTC. “In the older proton beam facilities, the scattering method is used, in which the proton beam is widened by a scattering body and is then ‘showered’ over the tumour. The scanning method which we use at RPTC confines the highest dose alone to the tumour field by field and thus beam direction by beam direction,” he adds. The new latest developments in this form of treatment therefore allow higher doses of radiation to kill tumour tissue without also causing collateral damage; something that was a significant issue previously.
Chemotherapy has improved with new drug discoveries. This medication has either new methods of action or different side effect profiles, so they can be combined with existing drugs to give better response rates without adding to toxicity. Supplementing modern chemotherapy is a whole array of newly discovered molecularly targeted drugs, which target specific pathways unique to the cancer cells and not possessed by the normal cells. “These represent important advances in this field, all of which have improved the outlook of patients with the diseases just cited and usually with lesser side effects than standard chemotherapy,” says Dr. Plowman.
Advances in Lifestyle Knowledge
The most important way to fight cancer is to maintain a healthy lifestyle – prevention is better than cure. These days, everyone is aware of the importance of not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, eating a balanced diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables and exercising regularly. One obvious advance in technology over the past decade has been the growth of the internet, meaning that information on lifestyle and also the latest treatment for cancer is readily accessible. With regards to treatment, the internet is still awash with sites which inform cancer patients that they have some ‘secret’ advices and recommend dubious methods based on single experiences. These are often scientifically unproven and may even be harmful. Cancer research is one of the world`s most intensive areas of scientific ground work and there are reputable sites that offer the latest in proven scientific research.
A short glance at one of the following sites will confirm this:
http://www.cancer.gov and http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/news/ and many more.