New Discoveries in Cancer Treatments offer more options

According to the World Health Organisation the number of cancer deaths worldwide could double by 2030 to reach 13 million.

Patients who are suffering from lethal types of cancers, like brain, lung, liver, ovarian and pancreas, do not respond well to existing therapies. This is bad news.

However there is good news too. Recent discoveries in cancer treatments are raising more hope for researchers as well as patients.

Cancer experts who met at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology last month were encouraged by the recent victories in treating cancer. Instead of the conventional way of standard chemotherapy, new therapies are taking a bigger role in targeting key tumour functions and destroying the cancer cells by boosting the immune system.

Patients with advanced or metastasized cancers, with limited treatment options, have shown increased rates of survival.

Researchers have discovered that an experimental drug, ipilimumab, can extend the lives of patients suffering from advanced melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that is increasing at a faster rate than other types of cancer.

Crizotinib, another experimental drug, was also shown to shrink tumours in advanced lung cancer patients.

Patients of advanced ovarian cancer have shown good progress in clinical trials of Avastin, a drug that cuts off supply of nutrient-rich blood to the tumours.

The life expectancy of men suffering from advanced prostate cancer can be significantly improved by adding radiation to hormone deprivation therapy.

Researchers are able to produce cancer vaccines that are more effective by using a common diabetic’s drug known as Metformin. They discovered that this anti-diabetic drug works better by boosting the number of cancer fighting T-cells.

These T-cells have immunological memory and can fight off a tumour that might occur later.

This discovery could revolutionise current strategies for therapeutic and prophylactic vaccines. Therapeutic vaccines are meant to treat illnesses that have already occurred and can be developed to treat many types of cancer including breast, prostate and lung.

Prophylactic vaccines are designed to prevent diseases from developing in healthy people, and can be developed to treat liver and cervical cancers.

In Singapore, scientists have discovered a way to halve chemotherapy costs for advanced breast cancer patients by using a $9 anti-fungal drug meant for dandruff and athlete’s foot infections.

Scientists at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore found that Ketoconazole, the anti-fungal drug, complements chemotherapy treatment as it impedes an enzyme in the body from breaking down a drug used to treat cancer.

Chemotherapy treatment uses a drug known as Docetaxel to treat breast, stomach, lung and prostate cancers. Patients undergo a total of  four cycles, each cycle once every three weeks and this cost between US$1300 to $1800. Using Docetaxel together with Ketoconazole, the concentration level of the chemotherapy was reduced by 40 per cent and in turn halving the cost while maintaining the desired results.

In a separate trial done recently involving 2000 women from nine countries, it was found that a single dose of radiation during surgery was just as effective for breast cancer patients as receiving weeks of radiation.

This new technique, called Targeted Intraoperative Radiotherapy, could save patients many weeks of post-operation radiotherapy that can include 20 or 30 visits to hospital. It also reduces damage to organs such as the heart, lung and oesophagus from radiation exposure. Although this new technique was applied to women with a similar type of breast cancer, researchers were excited by the findings.

Hopefully before the end of 2010, there will be more great news for cancer patients. Stay tuned.

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