From an interview with
Dr. Rajesh Bajaj
McLeod Oncology & Hematology Associates
It’s a case of good news, bad news, good news. We are all living longer. That’s good. But because we get to grow older, more of us are experiencing cancer. That’s bad. However, the latest good news is improvements in cancer treatment are continually being unveiled.
McLeod Oncologist Dr. Rajesh Bajaj describes some of the advances in cancer treatment that today’s patients have available.
Treatments change almost every year. Depending on which cancer you have, we have seen many advances and we have treatments for diseases now that were not there just two or three years ago.
For example, chronic myelogenous leukemia. Twenty years ago this cancer was almost universally fatal. Fortunately, a new medicine was developed in the late 1990s called Gleevec. Since then, most patients have a very long life. They go into remission. And newer medicines have come along offering patients even better survival from that disease.
Just last year, at least four or five new medicines were approved for a disease called chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Some of these are much easier to take, with fewer side effects, and more effective.
With every disease you can think of there are small progressive treatment improvements that are made. Sometimes there are big leaps that are made, but usually it’s small progress that’s made, with new treatments every few years.
In breast cancer, there are certain medicines that have changed the lives of patients tremendously. One of them is Herceptin. This medicine was not an option until about 10 or 15 years ago. About 25% of patients have a type of breast cancer called HER2-positive Breast Cancer. It used to be a very aggressive type breast cancer and had very poor outcomes. But since Herceptin-based treatments have arrived, the outcomes for these patients have improved tremendously.
Another example of advancements in treatment has occurred for a disease called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Around 18 years ago an antibody called Rituxan was developed that has changed the lives of patients and the cure rates have gone up tremendously.
As these new medicines are discovered and come to market, our ability to treat patients improves greatly.
Patients are living much longer, because we have a number of things we can do for them. When I first started in oncology, we had maybe one treatment option for lung cancer. Even then, we were very selective about who would benefit from treatment. Most of the patients went to a hospice program very quickly. But now for many cancers – even lung cancer and colorectal cancer – we have two or three lines of treatment. In addition, immunotherapy has now shown significant promise in a number of diseases.
Today, cancer survival is much better. And, there are many diseases we can cure that we were unable to cure before.
Have a question? Ask a Cancer Specialist.