Many new trends are emerging for how we see cancer and how we treat it — from focusing on specific research to identifying increased incidents to prevention. New prospects and precision medicine make this an exciting new era for new research.
Though it doesn’t make front page coverage, cancer research has evolved. Better technology has meant less discomfort during treatment, but it also has meant more detailed and clearer data collection than ever before. As with any treatment plan, understanding the nature of the disease is crucial to overcoming it. Cancer has proven a mystery, even prompting its own biography — The Emperor of All Maladies — a daunting title, but one it has earned.
But it’s a malady that is being chipped away at. Careful analysis of data collected from cancer patients reveal the slow but continual progress researchers have made. Cancer occurrences have slowed and the mortality rate for various types of cancer has lowered. The precious data helps in other ways, too. Scientists glean information from the data about what kinds of cancers are on the rise and which seem to be slowing down.
How Demographics Lead Prevention Efforts
When researchers begin to specify cancer by type and occurrence, they can better focus their work. The occurrence and mortality rates of some cancers have changed how scientists think about early cancer detection and prevention in targeted populations. For example, research reveals that colorectal cancer is higher among African-Americans, so better screening efforts can be put into effect.
Research has already revealed how obesity has a causal role in some cancers. When doctors see patients struggling with obesity, they can tailor prevention programs for those who may also be at a higher risk for cancer.
An African-American man battling obesity has a much higher risk for stomach cancer, for example, than a woman who is obese. Among Latinos, cervix and liver cancer have a higher occurrence. A Latino woman should be checked for cervical cancer more often, since the incidence of cervical cancer among this demographic is higher.
Doctors would have more information for improved cancer screenings. Understanding how demographics and genetics work regarding cancer also encourages more research on its possible causes.
Better Research Tools for Cancer Research
When researchers consider relevant data, they focus on cancer subtypes based on the cell, molecular structure and histology aided by electronic pathology. By doing so, those diagnosed with cancer have a better understanding of their disease — along with better ammunition to fight it. For example, we understand that many cancers aren’t a single disease. Breast cancer is one example of the multi-faced aspect of certain cancers — it has four main subtypes.
By understanding which subtype of breast cancer they have, women can work more effectively with their doctors for a more targeted treatment program for better outcomes. With better clarity regarding cancer subtypes, including diagnostic trends, research can also be more focused and specific. Studying the data by subtype isn’t for breast cancer alone — it includes cancers like esophageal, thyroid, head and neck, pancreatic and lung.
Better Patient Info Means Better Patient Outcomes
With better and more detailed information about the cancer and its subtype, patients receive better guidance for treatment. A more complete treatment improves the prognosis of certain cancer subtypes as well as the efficacy of their standard treatment procedures. Currently, most studies are limited to patients who participate in clinical trials. If such data were on a larger scale, researchers could better understand why some treatment options have better outcomes.
Insight into why treatment works for some and not for others is crucial to developing more effective treatment options. Such knowledge would provide patients and their healthcare providers will enough evidence to make informed choices.
The Future of Cancer Research
The best, most promising trend is the overall decline of deaths from cancer in the United States. Some of which may be due to new ways of treating cancer. Some researchers have found success by combining targeted therapies with immunotherapy, which is the biggest trend in cancer treatment right now. It uses the body’s immune system to help fight cancer.
Targeted therapies block biochemical pathways or mutant proteins that cancer cells need to survive — halting the tumor’s growth. Immunotherapy, in conjunction with targeted therapies, may be able to control the disease long-term, even though the immune therapy lasts only a few months.
For those who find success in immunotherapy, it is often wildly successful. The unfortunate truth, though, is that even though this treatment is very promising, it still is ineffective in most patients. Clinical trials done at the University of Michigan suggest that molecular changes in the tumors prevent the immunotherapy drugs from killing them. If researchers can reprogram the epigenetics of the tumor, then more patients may see better outcomes.
An Arsenal of Weapons to Fight Cancer
But traditional therapies have been extremely impactful. How physicians treat “nofollow” cancer today has been part of the reason for the decline in deaths from cancer. Standard therapy has meant a promised tomorrow to many for whom cancer would have been fatal.
Radiation, surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy are all advancing as treatment options as well. Perhaps most importantly, research is helping healthcare professionals deploy these treatments in the most effective manner, leading to better patient outcomes.
Millions of people face cancer diagnoses every year, and though the challenge for each patient is unique, the dedication and commitment to understanding the complexity of this illness means better treatments and a more hopeful future. With science working to understand the molecular biology of the disease and researchers studying and collecting data from cancer patients, the mystery of this malady can be less fatal for those who suffer from it.
Jennifer E. Landis
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