Medically Reviewed by Donny Huynh, MD
The 21st century’s first two decades witnessed a dramatically changing landscape in cancer care. Our knowledge in cancer biology has grown tremendously, leading to remarkable progress in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment.
ROLE OF THE SPECIALISTS
Today, cancer care involves three major areas: medical oncology, surgery and radiation oncology. All of these specialists play an important role in cancer care. For example, as a medical oncologist, I’m usually involved with the work-up, diagnosis and determining the stage (severity) of a patient’s cancer. We work with our colleagues to formulate treatment plans. We are also responsible for surveillance, which is following the patient for five years after diagnosis. This allows us to monitor the patient to see if their cancer or blood disorder reoccurs.
The surgeon may perform a biopsy to help with the cancer diagnosis or removing the actual tumor, possibly usingrobotic-assisted surgery to offer a more precise type of procedure.
A radiation oncologist utilizes radiation emissions to treat cancer. This more localized therapy helps reduce some of the unwanted side effects. The radiation oncologist may also perform stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiotherapy to deliver precisely-targeted radiation with sub-millimeter accuracy in a few treatments, offering patients fewer, shorter treatments and a better quality of life.
ADVANCES IN MEDICAL ONCOLOGY
During the last few decades, medical oncology progress resulted in more tools to help combat cancer. This included about cancer genetics, where a certain molecular mutation can be identified. Then, there’s nanotechnology, which can improve the accuracy of imaging tests. Targeted therapy aims at a specific gene or protein. In doing so, this drug helps stop a cancer from growing or spreading. Targeted therapy can be used alone or in combination with other types of treatment, including chemotherapy. In addition, we also have immunotherapy, which helps the body boost the immune system and work better at killing cancer cells.
TREATING LEUKEMIA – EXPANDING LIFE
Some of the most dramatic changes involve treating blood cancers. One of the most common types of blood cancers are chronic leukemias, such as chronic myeloid leukemia or chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Twenty years ago, a patient with chronic myeloid leukemia was expected to live about 5-7 years. With modern medication — by taking only a few pills daily — the average life expectancy of this patient today is about 25 years and counting.
These reflect merely a few examples of how the world of possible cancer treatments has blossomed, as has the outlook for cancer patients.
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