We are on the verge of being able to predict cancer patients who can bypass chemotherapy, a major cancer meeting revealed recently. Such an ability would permit patients to avoid the cancer treatment’s side effects, when it would be judged that chemotherapy wouldn’t be too effective anyway.
This is a step in the direction of individualized cancer treatment; in other words, each person’s case would be assessed in a unique way. Researchers hail this as a positive step. Chemotherapy, on average, is a useful treatment against cancer. That’s why it is so often used. But in some individual situations chemo isn’t warranted.
Some patients can be spared the often difficult side effects, which include lowered immune system, and nausea. A lot more research needs to be done to identify the type of cancer patient who wouldn’t benefit from chemotherapy. Here, for example, is one: breast cancer patients who have high levels of estrogen receptors. Their cancerous cells are uniquely linked to the hormone estrogen. It’s believed these patients may not benefit much from chemo.
One researcher calls this the “tailored therapy era” — cancer treatment tailored specifically to each patient. Breast cancer is leading the way; but others, including lung cancer, aren’t far. Doctors will soon be better able to predict the outcome of chemotherapy instead of blindly assigning the treatment to every patient.
It used to be all about chemo, but that is starting to change. There are targeted treatments now available, where a drug attacks one molecule in particular — a molecule that sparks the growth of a tumor, for instance. The difference, if you’ll allow a military comparison, is as such: where chemotherapy would carpet bomb an entire town, targeted treatment would shoot a guided missile to one building where the enemy lives.
Chemotherapy involves the use of anticancer drugs that stop a cancer cell from growing or multiplying. They are powerful, and often harm nearby healthy cells. This is what leads to side effects. Each person will respond differently, although most find they become easily fatigued. The range of possible effects, though, is pretty substantial. They include pain, nausea, increased rate of infections, diarrhea, constipation, problems in the mouth and throat, kidney and bladder effects, skin and nail effects, impotence, vomiting, blood clotting problems, and flu-like symptoms.