A diagnosis of cancer remains one of the greatest health anxieties for the majority of people. Many have witnessed the loss of a loved one to the disease. For others, it is a just a fear that they prefer not to name, and it is surrounded by superstition. But times are changing. Research is at hand to show that the chances of surviving cancer are getting better all the time.
Techniques in surgery are advancing year by year. The technology of scans and x-rays allows surgeons to be much more prepared for what they will find under the skin so that the collateral damage to surrounding tissues can be greatly reduced. New procedures are making a dramatic difference in both effectiveness and recovery rates.
For instance, liver cancer, which was at one time almost impossible to remove, is now seeing a large number of patients surviving for years. The main change is down to using a high-frequency ultrasound scan which identifies the blood vessels within the liver. These are then cauterized so that the diseased portion of the liver can be removed without excessive blood loss. The liver’s natural restorative abilities complete the job.
Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy
Along with surgery, both chemo and radiotherapies have made great leaps forward in recent decades. Although a course of chemotherapy is still, for most patients, an exhausting procedure, the effectiveness is constantly improving as drugs are targeted more closely to the cancerous cells instead of using the blunderbuss approach of former years. Breast cancer treatment now identifies the different molecular makeup of different types of cancer cell and the chemo attacks them appropriately.
Similarly, radiotherapy, which is used in the treatment of about 40% of cancer treatments, has seen great advances in recent years. The precision of targeting the cancer cells and the availability of different forms of radiation have improved. Especially significant is the use of proton beams which, unlike x-rays, do not assault all the tissues in their line of fire (damaging healthy tissues before and after the cancerous cells) but deliver their punch at a specific distance into the body.
Two new ways of dealing with cancer are also making an impact.
Gene editing technologies are very much at the forefront of much medical research at the present time. Since cancers are basically the result of faults developing in the genetic makeup of cells, resulting in uncontrolled divisions, it makes sense that a treatment that targets the actual DNA of the cancerous cells would be the ideal approach. Indeed, this is showing positive results in leukemia treatment already.
Immunotherapy is another rapidly advancing approach to cancer treatment. These therapies use the body’s own immune system to attack the cancerous cells. For instance, the body has natural proteins called immune checkpoints, which prevent the immune system from over-reacting; by blocking the activity of these proteins the immune system is allowed to go into full action against the cancer cells.
Apart from advances in treatment, the other main reason for improved survival rates is early diagnosis leading to early treatment, which is far more effective in most cases. There are three main strands.
First, education is opening people’s minds to the routine examination of their own bodies and a willingness to report abnormalities rather than just hope they will go away. Women are becoming accustomed to examine their breasts, and men their testicles, for early indications of lumps. Most people are now aware of the risks of exposure to ultraviolet and what to look for on their skin for signs of melanoma.
Second, routine screening is enabling medical authorities to detect symptoms of developing cancers before anything becomes apparent to the person concerned. Breast, cervical, and bowel cancers are subject to routine screening across the population in many countries.
Third, epidemiology has revealed which sections of the population are particularly susceptible to specific cancers. Some cancers are more likely to develop in particular age-groups, while others occur more in certain ethnic groups. By targeting screening of the most at-risk groups, medical authorities have been able to achieve more economical and more efficient screening.
Beating the Big C
Cancer is likely to remain one of the main causes of death across the world for some time to come. However, recent scientific advances on different fronts continue to contribute to the falling death rate and to the hope that within a few decades the fear of cancer will take a much lower profile.
Luca Duncan is a medical research who is always on the lookout for the latest innovations and news. He loves to share what he finds by posting on a variety of health and wellness websites.