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Advancing in the Fight Against Cancer

Posted on Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Looking at where we are at and where we are going in the fight against cancer can help inform and inspire patients, families, the medical community, and policymakers to make the best plans for a healthier population.

Cancer is still a vexing disease, but researchers and the medical community have come a long way in improving detection and prevention methods and enhancing treatment options, moving closer to a cure. Looking at where we are at and where we are going in the fight against cancer can help inform and inspire patients, families, the medical community, and policymakers to make the best plans for a healthier population.

Genetic discoveries

In the last year, there have been many advances in identifying the genetic mutations that may trigger cancer. For example, with ovarian cancer, a lot of work has already been done linking mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, commonly passed down from mother to daughter. A recent NIH-funded study added to these genetic considerations for doctors and patients determining risk and developing a screening plan. The study found that women with mutations in RAD51C and RAD51D genes are, respectively, five and twelve times more likely to get ovarian cancer than women in the general population.  

Similar progress is being made towards discovering genetic predispositions for other types of cancers.  Identifying the gene mutations that lead to cancers can help doctors and patients make decisions about how often to screen for cancer and ultimately can lead to earlier detection and intervention, increasing the likelihood of survival.

Immunotherapy

For decades, scientists have experimented with ways to get the body’s immune system to fight cancerous cells and inflammation. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have had high success rates in getting the body’s immune system to stop some types of cancer growth. In 2016, the FDA approved use of checkpoint inhibitors for lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. In a clinical trial of patients with head and neck cancer, patients treated with immunotherapy were twice as likely to survive one year than those on standard chemotherapy, and this came with far fewer reported negative side effects from treatment. Scientists believe immunotherapy could be a cure for some people with cancer in the future.

These are just two examples of where science is going in the fight against cancer. Understanding the underlying genetic contributors can help guide prevention and gene counseling. Continued development of immunotherapy may promise a cure, at least in some cases, for cancer patients.