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Cancer has become of the dreadful diseases of all times as more and more people are affected by this disease every year. It is not a disease of elderly only. Dr. Waseem Abbas, Associate Consultant - Medical Oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, believes that time has come for newer and effective therapies where we all should unite and conquer the disease, which is possible only with Innovation.
What are Innovative therapies?
A. The cancer research field is filled with promising innovators looking for new and exciting ways to treat and prevent cancer, as well as improve conditions for patients during and after treatment.
B. Medical innovation is about experimentation and challenging the status quo. Sometimes that involves simply thinking outside the box and sometimes it means bucking conventional wisdom outright.
C. Or it simply means invention and discovery of new drugs which are less toxic, prolong life and cure cancer or are affordable to all.
Nevertheless, every year brings new knowledge and insights that help direct further research and ultimately improve the outlook for patients with cancer. In this article, Dr. Waseem has highlighted the most important clinical advances of the past few years and previews where cancer science is headed.
Liquid biopsies for Circulating Tumor DNA;- Oncologists have long dreamed of avoiding the subjective nature of reported signs and the hit-or-miss nature of biopsies. Their dreams may be coming true. Blood tests known as “liquid biopsies” uncover signs of actual DNA, or cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), which is shed from a tumor into the bloodstream. The advantage is that ctDNA is more than 100 times more abundant in the blood than tumor cells. We now routinely do this test and avoid repeat biopsies which are painful and risky. Liquid biopsies now offer standard care in some cancers.
What is cancer Immunotherapy?
Types of immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways:
Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
Giving your immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.
· The immune system keeps track of all of the substances normally found in the body. Any new substance that the immune system doesn’t recognize raises an alarm, causing the immune system to attack it. For example, germs contain substances such as certain proteins that are not normally found in the human body. The immune system sees these as “foreign” and attacks them. The immune response can destroy anything containing the foreign substance, such as germs or cancer cells.
· The immune system has a tougher time targeting cancer cells, though. This is because cancer starts when cells become altered and start to grow out of control. The immune system doesn’t always recognize cancer cells as foreign.
· Clearly there are limits on the immune system’s ability to fight cancer on its own because many people with healthy immune systems still develop cancer. Sometimes the immune system doesn’t see the cancer cells as foreign because the cells aren’t different enough from normal cells. Sometimes the immune system recognizes the cancer cells, but the response might not be strong enough to destroy cancer. Cancer cells themselves can also give off substances that keep the immune system in check.
· To overcome this, researchers have found ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells and strengthen its response so that it will destroy them.
The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
Monoclonal Antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
Immune checkpoint Inhibitors: These drugs basically take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
Cancer Vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.
Other, non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, but this can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.