Could humanity finally gain the upper hand in our age-old battle against cancer?
Recent scientific and medical advances have added many new weapons to our arsenal, including personalized gene therapy, artificial intelligence screening, simple blood tests and possibly soon vaccines.
According to the World Health Organization, cancer killed nearly one million people in 2020 — nearly one in six of the global total.
Ahead of World Cancer Day on Saturday, here are some promising recent developments in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Immunotherapy drugs, which stimulate the immune system to track down and kill cancer cells, have been one of the biggest advances in cancer treatment in the last decade.
With less severe side effects than chemotherapy, immunotherapy has had a profound impact on the treatment of many types of cancer.
Before 2010, the survival rate for people with severe cases of the skin cancer melanoma was very low. But thanks to immunotherapy drugs, some patients can now live 10 years or more.
However, not all tumors respond to immunotherapy, which has its own side effects.
“We are only at the beginning of immunotherapy,” said Bruno Quesnel, director of research at France’s National Cancer Institute.
Pierre Saintigny, an oncologist at the Lyon Berard Cancer Center in France, said that different types of immunotherapy treatments need to be combined “as intelligently as possible”.
“With immunotherapy, we have raised a level in cancer treatment, but steps are still needed for all patients who do not benefit from it,” he added.
CAR-T therapy involves taking T-cells from an individual patient’s blood and modifying them in the laboratory.
Then T-cells, which are part of the immune system, are re-injected into the patient, to target the newly trained cancer cells.
Another technique called allogeneic CAR-T involves obtaining cells from a different, healthy person.
So far, CAR-T therapies have mainly been effective against certain types of leukemia, and the process is very expensive.
Computer programs using artificial intelligence (AI) have shown greater accuracy than humans in detecting brain and breast cancer from routine scans.
As AI research continues to flourish in various fields, it is expected to play an increasing role in other ways to diagnose cancer.
“Thanks to artificial intelligence, we will be able to identify which patients will benefit from a shorter treatment,” said oncologist Fabrice Andre of France’s Gustave Roussy Cancer Institute.
This means fewer side effects for patients, and less burden on the health system.
Liquid biopsy test
Liquid biopsies can detect cancer in DNA with a simple blood test, which is easier and less invasive than traditional biopsies that require a simple tissue sample.
A quick and easy test will help doctors detect and act against cancer before it has a chance to spread.
The new technology is now being used in the United States, “but there are still a lot of false positives,” Andre said.
Vaccines have long been available to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and hepatitis B, which causes liver cancer.
But after decades of failed attempts at a cancer vaccine, hopes are rising that the mRNA technology pioneered for COVID-19 vaccines could also lead to success in cancer.
Vaccines that treat rather than prevent cancer have been the most promising in development.
In December, drugmakers Moderna and Merck announced positive preliminary trial results for their personalized mRNA vaccine to treat skin cancer patients.
And last month, German pharmaceutical biotech said 10,000 people in the UK would be part of a trial for an mRNA cancer vaccine that would be tailored to individual tumours.
A personal combination
Steven Le Goyle, head of the hospital group at the Curie Institute in France, said he was optimistic about the future of cancer treatment.
Ideally, we would “combine all these approaches and new treatments to create an individualized plan for the patient,” he said.
“We have passed a milestone in our understanding of tumor cells,” he said.
“Cancer remains an ordeal, but progress has been made — exponentially.”
© 2023 AFP
Quote: From Vaccines to AI: New Weapons in the Fight Against Cancer (2023, February 2) Retrieved 2 February 2023 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-02-vaccines-ai-weapons-cancer.html
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