2 Exciting New Cancer Treatments
Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery have long been the standard treatments for many different forms of cancer. And while these treatments are often very effective, they all have their drawbacks as well. Doctors and scientists are constantly working to find treatments that are more effective and have fewer harmful side effects for cancer patients. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, it's well worth learning about the new treatments that are becoming available. Take a look at some promising ways that medical science is working to beat cancer.
Understanding immunotherapy requires a whole different mindset than understanding traditional cancer treatments. Chemotherapy involves large doses of chemicals that are toxic enough to kill the cancerous cells – but they also affect the healthy parts of the body. That's what causes the well-known chemotherapy side effects. Radiation treatment does the same thing, but with radiation in place of toxic chemicals. And surgery requires going in and removing the affected organ, or parts of it. All of these treatments attack the problem from the outside.
Immunotherapy, on the other hand, works by forcing the body's own immune system to attack the cancer cells in the same way that it would attack a cold. Normally, cancer cells produce a molecule that prevents the patient's T-cells from recognizing the threat and attacking it. The immunotherapy treatments offer a two-pronged approach – they enable the T-cells to recognize the cancer cells, and they also cause the T-cells to multiply, bulking up the body's defense system. Although this treatment comes with its own risky side effects, it has shown promising results in melanoma patients, and is expected to be able to be used to fight a range of other cancers as well.
Researchers are also working on complementary techniques to make immunotherapy even more effective for more patients. For example, studies have shown that immunotherapy drugs are more effective in the presence of certain naturally-occurring bacteria found in the human gut. An increased understanding of how these bacteria interact with immunotherapy drugs and the immune system may enable doctors to provide the microbial environment needed to ensure that patients will respond to immunotherapy drugs.
Gene therapy is another new frontier in cancer treatments that appears to be having positive results. Similar to immunotherapy, the purpose of gene therapy is to ensure that the patient's T-cells can attack the cancer. Rather than using drugs to stimulate the T-cells, the gene therapy approach involves removing the patient's T-cells and genetically modifying them to be effective cancer-fighters.
In some cases, patients may not have enough T-cells to remove and modify. This was the case with Layla, a one-year-old leukemia patient who received an experimental gene therapy when all other treatments had failed. She was too small and too ill to provide enough of her own T-cells, so doctors used donor T-cells. To prevent the donor cells from attacking the baby's healthy cells, the doctors used a gene editing technique that disabled the protein that would attack foreign healthy cells, leaving genetically modified T-cells that would only go after the cancer.
The particular treatment that baby Layla received had not previously even been tested in humans, though the manufacturer was preparing for clinical trials. Therefore, it came as something of a shock to everyone when the little girl went into remission. And though it's still too soon to be certain that the cancer will not come back, the outcome so far suggests that gene editing will prove to be a powerful and effective tool in fighting cancer.
If you or someone that you care about has been diagnosed with cancer, be sure to ask your oncologist about new treatments, alternative therapies, and clinical trials, especially if traditionally treatments prove ineffective. One of these newer treatments may hold the key to putting your cancer into remission.