Cancer doctors continually learn how to more specifically target the tumor, while reducing harm to the remainder of the body. McLeod Seacoast Oncologist Stewart Sharp, MD, reveals some of the newer developments in cancer chemotherapy:
Here is a summary of Dr. Sharp’s remarks:
Chemotherapy describes a number of different agents. “Traditional” chemotherapy is an older type therapy, particularly with the development of new therapies, such as biologic agents that have very specific targets. This is possible through new knowledge on human genetics and the particular peculiar genetics that are associated with cancer. We now understand that there are very specific pathways cancer cells depend on for their survival. There’s a tremendous effort underway to make medicines that can block parts of those pathways and suppress the cancer.
Other medicines use the body’s immune system to attack the tumor cells in ways very different from traditional chemotherapy medicines. They help the immune system recognize the tumor; they stimulate an intense response against the tumor. For certain kinds of cancer, these therapies are actually becoming preferred to more traditional chemotherapy.
Many of the things that we’ve done traditionally will be affected by the technology and changes that are occurring. In the future, much of the treatment for cancer is going to be very different. We’ll employ the immune system and unique medicines that are specifically targeted at the cancer in each person’s cancer. Even though we may call something “breast cancer,” there may be many different types of breast cancer, depending on the unique mutations that are found in each of these cancers.
We now spend a great deal of time identifying unique mutations. Then, we give the patient therapy that’s most specific, most helpful and best tolerated for their particular cancer. That’s really going to be the future of what we do. Rather than using the same medicines in every patient for a particular cancer, we’re going to selectively use medicines that are best fitted for that particular patient and the cancer that they have.
That’ll be true for patients of different ages, as well. As folks get older, they tend to have other medical problems and those all have to be accounted for when you make a treatment plan. Some medicines won’t be as well tolerated in certain patients and won’t be as successful as a result. So, we try to adapt the treatment to the nature of the cancer and to the nature of the patient.
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