The future of cancer treatment

02 May 2017

Will we ever beat cancer, and what will the future of treatment be like? Kat Arney heard from Emma Smith from Cancer Research UK, about what the future of cancer and diagnosis might look like.

Emma - Imagine a kind of scenario where people were alerted to having cancer without even noticing any symptoms. Maybe they wear some kind of monitoring device like one of the watches that track various elements of your blood or your sleep patterns. What if there was some way that people could be alerted to a potential warning sign of cancer at a really, really early stage. Then go into the doctor and maybe the doctor could do a blood test and find out if it is cancer.

And, more importantly, if it is is it necessary to treat it? We automatically think cancers are a terrible thing and we should throw everything at it, but there are a lot of situations now  where actually those cancers are never going to cause any harm so we shouldn't be treating people. It’s a very complex area but understanding those actual cases where we don’t need to treat is going to be very important as well.

Then once we’ve got a diagnosis, the doctor might be able to prescribe a really targeted treatment that doesn’t have many side effects, effectively wipes the cancer out. Maybe some immunotherapy using your body’s own immune system to go and find and attack cancer cells and then we have patients surviving for many, many happy years.  

Kat - It all seems pretty exciting, but, as Emma also told me, there are still some big challenges ahead.

Emma - I think it’s fully understanding the causes of cancer. We still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. It’s finding ways to diagnose cancers earlier. We know if cancer is diagnosed at an early stage patients are much, much more likely to survive. We could save thousands of lives just by diagnosing the disease where it’s more treatable.

We need more effective treatments. We also need to learn how to use the treatments that we’ve got better; smarter. There are lots of potential combinations of treatments out there that simply have not’ been explored. Often these are cheap drugs that are already in use. We know that they’re safe, they’re easily available. How do we combine those with other modes of therapy like radiotherapy to make a massive difference?

Finally, of course, with so many people now surviving cancer, we need to not only be thinking about how effective a treatment us but also potential long term side effects. We’ve got now people surviving 10, 20 years post diagnosis. Even a whole life if it’s with children’s cancers. So what do we do to make sure that patients suffer the fewest side effects and have the best quality of life, not only during their treatment but in the many years that they hopefully have afterwards?

 

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