The treatment of cancer used to focus on chemotherapy, and radiation with possible surgery at the site of the tumor. For prostate and breast cancer treatment also might include hormone therapy. But even as these therapies change almost before our eyes, there is a range of other therapies which are hot on their heels and have the potential to change the way we view the c-word.
Immunotherapy looks at ways of building our own immune systems to make them both more selective in what they suppress and better at the destruction of abnormal cells.
Cancer is an especially pernicious form of cell growth because it can trick the body’s immune system into either leaving it alone or in bad cases helping it spread. This is why some forms of cancer seem to spread and are especially virulent.
Under normal circumstances, white blood cells are responsible for the cleanup of abnormal cells but cancer effectively hides from this cleaning. By deactivating the cancer’s ability to hide and blocking some signaling pathways, white blood cells can return to their proper task and our own immune systems will attack the cancer.
While this sounds something of a contradiction in terms, the idea is explained quite simply. Certain types of virus can be entered into the system. These viruses are bioengineered to attack cancer cells but leave healthy ones alone. In tests, this has shown to have the beginnings of a breakthrough in brain cancer, and while it is still experimental the researchers have hope.
This innovative approach involves harvesting certain cells from the patient’s body and then equipping those cells with antigens which are specific to the tumor in question. The adjusted cells are then returned to the patient and these new tree-like cells perform in the way that the immune systems normally would.
The treatment is still in the early stages but again the expectation is that the specificity of the antigen will lead to a high success rate.
Cancer treatments specialists are looking into how these newer treatment approaches might need to be combined with traditional treatments. Immunotherapy may well work better after chemotherapy for example.
Researchers in California are looking ways in which they might be able to construct a structure where they can be used in tandem and in a sequence.
Starving the tumor
Like any other cell a cancer cell needs food, often in the form of glutamate, to develop and grow. Researchers reason that if there is a way to prevent access to the food needed they can effectively kill the cancer, without affecting the cells around it.
Stopping the cells from feeding on a specific enzyme they require or blocking their access to vitamins needed for growth has the potential to stop a cancer and eradicate it.
These treatments are just a few of the advances which are being sought across the world. As cancer becomes our number one killer, the fight without side effects is going to be a major step forward.