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New Ways To Decimate Cancer

Recent developments in immunotherapy bring promise and hope to patients in advanced stages of cancer.

lab-testNew evolution in oncological therapeutics can not only completely cure cancer in more instances, they can now be administered with much less (in some cases minimal) side effects and are able to prolong a patient’s life by many years.

Within cancer therapeutics, immunotherapeutic drugs have gained broader acceptance because of their lower toxicity and comparatively improved treatment success rates. These are drugs administered to target only cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), for instance, have proven to be effective in the treatment of colorectal cancer, breast cancer and lymphoma. The use of MAbs has increased the cure rate for lymphoma by a large percentage. For instance, more than 90% of the most common types of lymphoma patients can achieve complete remission.

How exactly do these MAbs work? Understanding this means first coming to grips with cancer’s most basic characteristic – its ability to deceive the immune system. Similar to sleeper terrorist units living and working among us in plain sight, cancer cells live and multiply in our bodies without being acknowledged as dangerous. As years pass, what may have started as a small tumour can progress into a late stage cancer.

MAbs essentially work by drawing a target on cancer cells. Engineered in a laboratory and cloned, MAbs are able to attach themselves to a specific antigen on the surface of the cancer cells when administered to a patient. In this way, they “mark” the cancerous cells, making them more visible to the immune system. The “killer cells” within your body’s defence system are then effectively guided to destroy the specific cancer cells.

Radioimmunotherapy, in which MAbs are enhanced with therapeutic radioisotopes, is a treatment class that has also seen great success. Variants of antibodies have been developed and it is now possible to safely use MAbs as vehicles for the delivery of radionuclide during therapy. Imagine the MAbs as guided missiles or “magic bullets” that radiate a 4mm area to “nuke” the cancerous tumour. Deliver many of these “magic bullets” into the tumour site and it becomes possible to totally eradicate the cancer cells.

A new type of immunotherapy is making headlines among the medical community. This involves harnessing our own immune system to fight cancerous cells. Through the removal of the tumour braking mechanism on the immune system, the immune system becomes activated and in turn eradicates the tumour. Other avenues in development include extracting immune cells from a patient, modifying them in a laboratory to create “activated immune cells” and then re-injecting them back into the patient’s body. This is the concept of empowering our own immune cells to effectively combat cancer cells. These new avenues of immunotherapy have yielded treatment success rate even for patients in advanced stages of cancer, like lung cancer, with the bonus of generating little side effects.

However, technological developments can only assist us in as much as the patients are willing to receive help. Too many patients go into denial and choose to delay or even avoid treatment altogether. During this time, their condition deteriorates quickly. With statistics showing that most cancers – if caught early – are highly curable, the old notion that it is untreatable must change. Early detection and early treatment are the keys to saving lives.

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