Targeting Cancer, Increasing Survival [SERIES]
This is the second part of a week-long series titled “Winning the War on Cancer.” Today we look into precision medicine and how it’s playing a role in increasing survival rates.
More and more cancer patients are beating the odds. Survival rates are up more than 68 percent. While doctors admit that a great deal more work needs to be done, especially when it comes to more aggressive forms of the disease, strides are being made every day with the help of precision medicine.
New Technology Making an Impact
“We are now at a tipping point where we have incredible technology available to us and we can mesh that with certain therapies and agents to target abnormalities in a much more specific way,” said Dr. Robert DiPaola, Director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Associate Dean for Oncology Programs and Professor of Medicine and UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Because we’re in this era of meshing the technology, our ability to analyze tumors and understand treatments better, we can continue to do better to improve mortality.”
“Right now, most patients who come in our doors are cured of their cancer with standard therapies and many of those therapies include very effective local therapies, like surgery or radiation with additional therapeutic agents,” said Dr. DiPaola.
“Many of these agents are evolving to become less general and more targeted, meaning they target a very specific pathway. What we find is there are fewer side effects related to those therapies because they target the cancer even more specifically.”
Over the past few years, most drugs approved for cancer and oncology are much more targeted where in the past they were very general toxins that would kill cancer cells more than normal cells, but they would also injure many normal cells which resulted in side effects.
Precision medicine also allows doctors to analyze the genes of a healthy person to see if they have a greater risk of getting a specific cancer.
“When you know that, you can target them for more effective prevention and screening. This is very common for breast cancer,” said Dr. DiPaola. “If we know a woman has a specific gene or a mutation of a gene, we can work on prevention efforts and screen her more effectively stay ahead of the game.”