In my last post, I looked at the traditional conventional cancer treatments, things like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This was a follow up to posts I’d done on Complementary and Alternative cancer treatments, where I realised that I’d grown out of touch with recent developments in cancer treatments. In this post, I will address this and take a look at the new conventional cancer treatments.
For the purposes of this post, conventional cancer treatments, whether new or traditional, can be considered as those recommended by medical professionals. The treatments that you would expect to be offered by oncologists in hospitals. This is in contrast to alternative cancer therapies, which are offered instead of conventional treatments, typically with devastating effects to the health of the patient. Complementary therapies, meanwhile, can be taken alongside the conventional treatments, without negatively impacting on them.
As such, there’s no harm in considering complimentary therapies, providing your oncologist has no objection. Alternative therapies, however, should be avoided at all costs. Unless, of course, there are no remaining conventional treatments left to try and you’ve got no one to whom you can leave your estate. Because Alt Pharma will bleed you just as dry as Big Pharma!
But, back to conventional cancer treatments, in the previous post, I made a list of such therapies, which was as follows:
- Hormone Therapy
- Targeted Therapy, like;
- Monoclonal Antibody Therapy
The first three are what I consider to be the traditional treatments. In this post I’ll be looking at the others, and anything else I can find along the way…
… of which, it seems, there is quite a bit! I think that a new list is in order.
New Conventional Cancer Treatments:
- Hormone Therapy
- Stem cell or bone marrow transplants
- Targeted Cancer Drugs
- Gene Therapy
- Radiofrequency Ablation
- Laser Ablation
- High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
- Ultrviolet Light Treatment
And that really is a lot! Far too many for me to go into all of them in great depth. Particularly as I’m reading about a lot of them for the first time myself. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a once over.
I’m already both reassured and grateful that there’s so much going on. I also need to make reference to the Cancer Research UK page on Treatment for Cancer, where I sourced a lot of this information. The Cancer Research UK website is a wonderful resource for all cancer related information and I highly recommend it.
Cancers need hormones to help them develop and grow. Hormone treatment blocks or lowers the amount of these hormones in the body, thus slowing down or preventing the growth of the cancer. This type of treatment only works with certain cancers, including: adrenal cancer; breast cancer; endometrial cancer; ovarian cancer, and; prostrate cancer.
Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplants
This is a treatment that can be used for patients with, leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and certain cancers of the blood. In order to combat these diseases, patients often have to undergo very high levels of treatments of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This can, and will, destroy the patient’s bone marrow and, along with it, their ability to fight off disease. The white blood cells, needed to fight disease, are made in the bone marrow.
The solution is to remove some healthy bone marrow from the patient, prior to treatment, and then transplant it back after the treatment is complete. This can also be done with donor marrow from a compatible source. This returns the patient’s ability to generate white blood cells and stave off future disease.
Monoclonal Antibodies (MABs)
This is a technique of designing an antibody for a specific task in treating a cancer. The antibody is then cloned and a great number of them are created in a lab. As they’re all the same, they all do exactly the same thing when they’re released into the patient.
The antibodies recognise one specific protein in the cancer and head straight for that. What happens next varies, depending on the type of MAB in use. Some antibodies simply sit over the protein and prevent it from doing whatever it was doing to grow the cancer, thus preventing said growth of the cancer. Others attach to the protein, which makes it and, therefore, the whole cancer, visible to the patient’s immune system, allowing that to take over.
And then there are Conjugated MABs. These are antibodies that are designed to carry a passenger. The passenger could be a molecule of chemotherapy. Alternatively, it could be radioactive in nature. Either way, the treatment is carried directly to the cancer, allowing a targeted delivery of these treatments. Which has to be an improvement on the traditional techniques…
Cancer Growth Blockers
These are a group of targeted drugs that block, or inhibit, the growth of cancers. One of the defining characteristics of cancers is the speed at which they grow and divide. As such, growth factors, the chemicals that instruct cells to grow and divide, are very important to cancers. Growth blockers are designed to get in the way of this process and stop it happening. There are a number of different available drugs, which are grouped by the specific growth factor that they block. For more specifics, follow the link, above.
Angiogenesis is the bodily process of growing new blood vessels. Normally speaking, it’s actually a pretty rare process in an adult. The main time it happens is after some form of large tissue loss, during the growth of the replacement tissue. Think; the recovery from the road rash after a cyclist comes off their bike.
The only other time that angiogenesis happens in a meaningful way is during the formation and growth of cancers. Anti angiogenics is the name for the new traditional cancer treatment that attempt to get in the way of that process. This concept was once thought to be the ‘silver bullet’ that would act as the cure for all cancers. Sadly, that turned out not to be the case. Anti angiogenics is, however, still able to make a contribution.
What, you mean like Settlers Tums?!
In actual fact, PARP stands for poly-ADP ribose polymerase. This is a protein that helps damaged cells repair themselves. Another defining characteristic of cancer cells is that they’re poorly constructed. Mainly due to the rush job. So, they need quite a lot of repairs. If those repairs can be prevented, or inhibited, the (cancer) cells die.
PARP inhibitors are primarily used with Fallopian tube cancer, ovarian cancer and peritoneal cancer. The treatment is quite often used in conjunction with radiotherapy. The radiation damages the cells to a certain point and then the PARP inhibitors prevent the cells from repairing, thus finishing them off.
Checkpoints are the proteins that effectively shield cancers from the body’s immune response. By inhibiting these checkpoints, the immune system should be able to ‘see’ the cancer and do something about it.
This treatment is currently in use for skin melanomas and lung cancers. Clinical trials are underway for other cancer types.
Cytokines are proteins that help boost the immune system. If the immune system gets boosted to a high enough level, it is able to ‘see’ the cancer and start to do something about it. Cytokines make this identification easier by also interfering in the way cancer cells grow. They can also release chemicals that draw the cancer cells to the attention of the immune system.
Cancer vaccines are very much in the development stage. With normal vaccines, weakened or harmless versions of the disease are introduced into the body. This allows antibodies to be formed without the recipient ever actually contracting the disease. Or autism…!
The plan is that cancer vaccines will work along similar lines. Teach the body to recognise specific proteins, those that are associated with cancers, are a threat. Having done so, if these proteins put in an appearance, they, along with the cancer they’re a part of, can be successfully combated by the immune system.
Adoptive Cell Transfer
This is another type of immunotherapy and is also very much in the development stage. Adoptive Cell Transfer is a remarkably involved process. It involves the collection of some of the patient’s T-Cells. These T-Cells are then tweaked to enable them to ‘see’ the cancer and then reintroduced into the patient. The T-Cells then go to work, dealing with the cancer.
T-Cells are a type of white blood cell that moves around the body looking for defective cells to destroy. Very useful, providing you can convince them that the cancer cells need destroying.
Bisphosphonates are actually medicines that prevent bone thinning and help fight osteoporosis. Their use in cancer is more in terms of damage limitation, rather than an actual cure. Using bisphosphonates to harden the bones helps to prevent the cancer, usually in the form of a metastasis, from getting too well established. These drugs are also useful to reverse some of the side effects from other treatments, like chemotherapy.
Gene therapy is a very young science and, if I had to guess, a long way from being viable.
The idea is to genetically engineer a series of genes that can be introduced into the cancer cell, thus changing it at genetic level. The most likely method of introducing said genes is through a targeted virus. The virus is given the manufactured genes and set upon the cancer cells. The virus infects the cancer cells, thus introducing the genetic material.
There are a number of different approaches this gene therapy can take: boosting the immune system; weakening the cancer cells; improving the effectiveness of other treatments. All of which have potential. If you can get past the fact that it involves engineering genetic material and introducing it into a patient. The human genome has 3 billion base pairs and we are a very long way from knowing how they all interact with each other…
I’m not expecting to see gene therapy be perfected in my life time, no matter how long I’ve got left.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
RFA uses the heat from radio waves to kill cancer cells. The radio waves need to be introduced directly into the cancer, which means that an electrode, in the form of a probe, has to be maneuvered into place. Basically, a wire is pushed into your tissue, like a needle, until it gets into the right place, at which point the cancer is zapped.
RFA is usually used in conjunction with other treatments, in particular for cancers of the kidneys, liver and lungs. It is mainly used on smaller tumours; those less than 5cm across. It is also often used in instances where surgery is less of an option: when there are too many tumours, or; when a tumour is too close to a major nerve or blood vessel, etc. You are, however, able to have this treatment on multiple occasions.
This is the surgical use of lasers, instead of scalpels, to remove cancer. The advantage of lasers is that they seal the wounds they make, as they cut, thereby limiting bleeding. The disadvantage is that they can only be used very close to the surface of the body.
Laser ablation is still being developed and is largely used in partnership with other treatment types, like chemotherapy. It is most useful for: cervical cancer; melanoma of the eye; penile cancer; vaginal cancer, and; vulvar cancer.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
HIFU uses the heat generated by high-intensity ultrasound to kill cancer cells. An ultrasound emitter is used to focus the sound waves at the cancer. These waves don’t pass through bone or air, meaning they can’t be used for all cancer types. It has also been found that HIFU is only really effective in a single use. So multiple tumours rules out this option.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
PDT uses good, old-fashioned light in the battle against cancer. It is used for non melanoma skin cancer, and is being investigated for other uses. The therapy comes in the form of a cream, which is applied directly to the cancer. The cancer absorbs the cream, which makes it sensitive to light. Light is then shone on the cancer cells, which pretty well kills them. Job’s a good ‘un.
Cryotherapy uses extreme cold to kill cancer cells. As you’d expect, the temperature involved limits the locations that it can be used. As such, it’s primarily used for cervical cancer and certain skin cancers. Actually, it sounds fairly terrifying; liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the cervix…! Still, it seems to be pretty effective.
Ultraviolet Light Treatment
By this stage, there are no prizes for working out that Ultrviolet Light Treatment uses UV light to destroy cancer cells. The most common version of this treatment, known as PUVA, uses a drug called Psoralen to sensitize the cancer cells and then hits them with the UV light. Due to the nature of the treatment, it’s use is limited to skin cancers and conditions, in particular lymphomas.
This is another one for the skin cancers. It is the combination of electricity and chemotherapy, which really doesn’t sound much fun. In practice, however, a probe simply passes electricity through the cells of the skin cancer, which alters them. This alteration makes the cancer cells more susceptible to the chemotherapy, making the whole process more effective. Electrochemotherapy is used for melanomas and sarcomas, among others.
So, there you have it; 19 new conventional cancer treatments. Some are far more developed that others but there is clearly an awful lot of work and progress going on in the field of cancer treatments. Best of all, from my point of view as a bowel (colon) cancer patient; some of these treatments have applications for me. It’s nice to know that there are new options available to me.