New cancer treatment may replace chemotherapy
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases currently due to complexity. Treatment against tumors, even though it is usually effective, is accompanied by horrible side effects. In addition, in the process of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, when tumor cells are destroyed, many healthy cells are also harmed.
Scientists have therefore been deepening research into the stimulation of the immune system. Although these treatments are still experimental, the technique is already a positive reality for some patients. An example is the case of Susanne Harris, who had a melanoma that did not disappear with the use of conventional therapies about 9 years ago.
In 2013, she participated in an experimental treatment: every three months, Suzanne went to a hospital where for half an hour they injected him with a medicine called Keytruda. In less than two months, the tumor already showed signs of regression. After 12 months, it was almost impossible to detect. By the end of 2016, it will complete one year without treatment since the tumor disappeared.
All immunotherapy treatments are based on helping the body's own defenses to locate and eradicate cancer. Keytruda's action is to neutralize a protein on the surface of cancer cells, known as PD1, which causes lymphocytes to not fight against them. A great part of the cancer research is the idea of neutralizing them, so that the body can stop the tumors.
The great challenge for scientists is to understand why this technique works only in some people, since the treatment effect in only 24% of patients. In the case of melanoma, the alternative brings high hopes, mainly because of the poor efficacy of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in this type of cancer.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved six immunotherapy treatments. In one set, the treatment efficiency reaches 80%. But Jonathan Cebon, director of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, is optimistic about the increase in that percentage: "It's data that's constantly moving in the light of the advancements that are occurring."
how to manipulate these cells to make them more effective in fighting tumors. Other techniques perform the extraction of the white blood cells from the patient, to select those that have a greater antitumor activity, to cultivate them, to activate them and, finally, to implant them again in the patient. This methodology is still at a more experimental stage.
A third option would be the use of vaccines. However, they would not be preventive vaccines, such as measles or influenza, but therapeutic vaccines, used only when the patient has contracted the disease. Thus, the immune system would be warned about the existence of cancer. The first vaccine of this type was approved in the United States in 2010 and is used in some types of prostate cancer.
Vaccines could contain the proliferation of cancer cells, reducing the tumor, eliminating those that had not been eradicated with other treatments or avoiding its resurgence. However, there are still many barriers to understanding all cancer processes.
Jay A. Berzofsky, director of the immunology and vaccine department at the US National Cancer Institute, is already using the vaccine as a research tool. The results showed a positive evolution in 75% of the patients, but it still needs to be compared with a control group that is undergoing a placebo treatment.Researcher Jonathan Cebon estimates that within 10 years the immunotherapy will be able to replace the most aggressive treatments in several types of cancer, such as the prostate, melanoma, stomach and breast cancer. However, other scientists believe that even if the treatment is effective, it will have to be combined with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Furthermore, it is not yet known whether immunotherapy would be used to cure cancer definitively, it. The drugs are recent, the patients they use have yet to be seen, so that they can eventually find out if the tumors return or not.
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