In recent years, researchers have developed new treatments that have significantly expanded the options for patients battling cancer.
“When I trained as a physician, our main methods of treatment were surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” says Carlos Robles, MD, medical oncologist/hematologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Now, we use more of a personalized approach to treatment. We have a better understanding of the molecular basis of certain cancers and are able to utilize biological treatments.”
For example, researchers have discovered there are certain types of lung cancer that respond better to treatment that do not include chemotherapy. “Those patients can be treated very successfully with oral therapies that are targeted to the molecular defect,” says Robles.
Patients who have stage 4 melanoma also are benefiting from new and innovative treatments. “Now we have an effective treatment that allows us to activate the patients’ immune systems,” says Robles. “Some patients who previously would have lived only three months are now living up to two years, or more, with a stage 4 disease.”
Another reason cancer survival is increasing is because more people are receiving life-saving screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. “People understand that when we detect cancer early, there is a better chance for survival,” says Robles. Surgery is still the main treatment for most cancers, and chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain powerful weapons in the oncologists’ arsenal. But now physicians have many more options when they are considering how to best treat a patient.
“Not everyone receives the same treatment recipe,” says Robles. “I think as we progress, we are going to see more and more specific treatments for certain molecular receptors, and fewer of the generic chemotherapies or other treatments. I think we are slowly moving into a very personalized form of medicine.”