Smarter Cancer Treatments Could Bring End to Chemotherapy

Image: Chemotherapy Drugs
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According to the American Cancer Society, over five hundred thousand Americans will die of cancer this year. Chemotherapy has been an important weapon against cancer. In fact, it has helped to reduce the number of deaths by about twenty percent over two decades.

Despite its effectiveness, the repercussions of chemotherapy can be devastating. Traditional chemotherapy involves using toxic chemicals to “carpet bomb” cancer cells and normal cells alike. Because the cytotoxins in the medication cannot only target the cancer cells, side effects such as anemia, vomiting, severe pain and memory loss can make the treatment worse. Unfortunately, alternatives to chemotherapy like radiation and surgery are just as damaging. During surgery, for example, doctors are forced to cut out large portions of a patient’s body to ensure that every tumor is removed, while radiation on the other hand, causes extreme fatigue.

Now, scientists are working on developing less harsh methods of beating cancer. One drug called ibrutinib brings hope to leukemia patients. In a study on this drug, a select group of patients who were not experiencing positive results from existing medications were chosen to take ibrutinib. After two years of being on the medication, these men and women had an 83 percent rate of survival. Over three dozen other drugs, unofficially named “smart bombs,” have also been developed to prevent specific processes that tumor cells need to survive instead of directly attacking them. They work by preventing cancer cells from communicating with each other and block their ways of getting nutrients. They also inhibit angiogenesis, which is the cell’s ability to produce blood vessels and fuel their own growth.

“Many, many fundamental concepts in cancer are being challenged now,” says Dr. Martin Tallman, chief of leukemia service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Research certainly looks promising for the future of cancer treatment.

[Source: Time Magazine]

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