According to the American Cancer Society, U.S. statistics indicate that in the year 2014, physicians will diagnose 1,665,540 new cases of cancer. Of these patients, the disease will claim the lives of 585,720 people. In the ongoing fight against various forms of cancer, researchers continue developing treatment methods and technologies every year. Conventional methods in decades past have involved using chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Advancements in these techniques continue. But, some of the latest innovations offer a newer approach.
Cancer Drug Research and Development
Oncologists advise that there are hundreds of disease processes that are considered cancer. While falling under specific categories, various cancers require individual forms of treatment. Scientists continually develop medications that eradicate cancer cells. While making strides and new discoveries, the research involved is long and difficult. Some medications change the genetics within malignant cells to inhibit growth and development. Other formulations annihilate the cells directly. Chemotherapeutic agents may affect the inner workings of cells that lead to death from starvation. Still others might influence the cells to self-destruct. Once developing a medication, researchers must test the formula on animals. If successful, human clinical trials may begin. After thorough evaluation processes, a formulation may receive approval. However, the entire process from inception to acceptance often takes more than a decade. Of all the drugs under development, it is estimated that one out of 10 preparations actually become available for treatment.
Illuminating Brain Tumors
When diagnosed with operable brain tumors, surgeons strive to remove as much of the mass as possible without causing damage to delicate surrounding tissue. Malignant cells often appear similar to healthy tissue, which poses a problem. Recently however, researchers devised a way to differentiate between normal and malignant cells using a form of bioluminescence. A hand full of medical facilities across the country are in the process of evaluating the technique that involves a liquid known as 5-ALA tumor fluorescence. Prior to surgery, a patient drinks the specially formulated liquid. As the compound circulates throughout the body, molecules target cancerous cells. Under a blue light, healthy cells remain blue. However, malignant cells become fluorescent pink. In this way, surgeons are more apt to remove perimeter tumor cells that might ordinarily be missed and lead to future regrowth.
Chemotherapy medications are created to kill a variety of cancer cells. Unfortunately, the formulations are not without a host of side effects and often damage healthy tissues. Researchers are involved in devising a type of immunotherapy that will treat individual malignancies in different people with minimal repercussions by enhancing the body’s immune system. The proposed vaccines will not only initiate a T-cell response in the presence of cancer cells, but will additionally encourage an ever expanding attack when cells mutate or change, which will broaden the immune system’s capabilities. The hope is that after receiving a vaccination, immune cells will become stronger and more aware. The response would also become individualized based on specific tumors. If successful, the innovations might lengthen survival time without the need for current hazardous treatments.