In the journey from knowing to prevention and cure of cancer, this is about the targeted therapies in cancer
Targeted systemic therapy refers to medicines that will “bind to and kill” the cancer cells selectively without disturbing normal cells. The discovery of this treatment has made a giant leap in treatment outcomes in cancer. Ongoing research is now more focussed on targeted therapies for treatment of cancer.
Medical oncologists routinely give targeted drug therapies in approved indications for cancers. It is used in a variety of cancers including brain cancer, oral, throat, lung, colon, pancreatic and gastric cancers, blood and lymph related malignancies. The biggest advantage is that it potentiates chemotherapy effects and also lacks the routine side effects of cancer chemotherapy, like hair loss, fall in blood cell counts and unwanted side effects on the body's organs like gut and other systems. This makes it suitable to deliver this kind of therapy even in elderly individuals with cancers.
The patient needs to come to the centre, get examined by the medical oncologist and medicines are usually administered under closely monitored conditions. These therapies many times are delivered as part of the ‘day care’ procedure, where the patient can go back home in the evening. In some curable cancers like lymphomas, targeted therapy is added in addition to routine chemotherapy (called "immunotherapy") which definitely increases the chance of curability in these cancers at any stage.
In certain other cancers, targeted therapy is given in the form of tablets and many patients find the home-based treatment convenient. In few other indications, the tablets are given after a definitive therapy (chemotherapy with or without radiotherapy) as a "maintenance" therapy that can prevent or delay cancer recurrence. However, the cost of targeted therapy limits its usage in some patients. Whatever be the cost, the million dollar question of any patient is whether cancer curable. The answer is definitely “yes”, if detected early. With the advances in cancer treatment, the number of patients cured of cancer is steadily on the rise. But the responsibility of finding it out early and getting treated appropriately by the right doctors at the right time rests with every individual. And that is why there is an imperative need to empower the common man with knowledge about cancer.
Cancer, to some extent, can be prevented by modifying one’s life style, changing eating habits and avoiding tobacco in any form; vaccination and some drugs, reduces risk of many cancers.
(To be continued next Thursday)
(The writer is Consultant (Haemato and Medical Oncology), Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, Madurai
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