Announcing a new offensive to “eradicate” cancer, US President Barack Obama has relaunched the fight against a disease that kills more 8 million people each year worldwide, despite significant treatment advances.
There are over a hundred varieties of cancers that can lodge in different tissues or organs.
Current treatments often given in combination, already allow to cure number of patients with certain cancers taken in time (prostate, testis, thyroid, breast, certain leukemias) and significantly prolong the survival of the other.
The oldest treatment became common in the late nineteenth century, is surgery that removes the tumor and possibly the associated lymph nodes.
Focus on early twentieth century, radiation therapy, which uses high-energy rays to destroy diseased cells, has developed rapidly over the past 20 years through important technical progress. These have helped to define the areas to be treated with great precision and limit exposure of healthy tissue.
Chemotherapy involves for its part to use drugs to kill cancer cells. It is currently used in a wide variety of cancers, most often in conjunction with surgery and / or radiotherapy, which has increased the survival in many cancers. But as it also tackles some healthy cells, it can cause significant side effects.
Reserved for certain cancers like breast or prostate, hormone therapy is intended for its part to cause tumor cell death in the longer term, creating a hormonal milieu that is unfavorable to them.
But other cancers (lung, liver, pancreas) can immediately respond poorly to current therapies while others recur, which led researchers to embark on new paths.
Among these particularly include immunotherapy, which attempts to “mobilize” the patient’s immune system against the disease. Mentioned long, it could, according to some researchers revolutionize the treatment of cancer. Very encouraging results were obtained recently in treating advanced melanoma and patients with lung cancer.
Another track, the “targeted” therapies that focus on various anomalies or molecules involved in the cancer growth. Are already used to treat certain blood cancers, but also breast, lung or digestive tract.
Beyond treatments that target cancer cells directly, some also address the development of blood vessels that feed the tumor.
Still in an experimental stage, gene therapy is, in turn, to “inject” into a cell a gene or to compensate for a defective gene or to make a substance to destroy tumor cells. It is the subject of numerous clinical trials and has shown particularly effective in children with blood cancers. Other tests are conducted using pancreatic cancers.
Therapeutic research is also interested in a technique “publishing gene” known as CRISPR acronym that removes, from insert or correct the DNA of a cell.