By Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, FACP
2014 was another banner year for cancer research, particularly in the areas of treatment, prevention, and early detection. While there were several significant spheres of progress, we find the following five major advances particularly noteworthy.
First is the development of new targeted therapies for cancer. Targeted therapies specifically block key molecules that are crucial for cancer cell growth and survival.
The promise of such therapies was first established about 15 years ago by the development of imatinib (Gleevec), which blocks the oncogene (cancer-promoting gene) responsible for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and led to dramatic responses in patients with this cancer. Many more targeted agents have since been developed. This development has been greatly helped in recent years by the sequencing of the human and the cancer genome, which has led to a more complete understanding of genes that drive cancer.
Targeted agents have transformed modern cancer care by keeping cancer under control for longer periods of time and reducing side effects. However, for all but a handful of patients, cancer is able to develop resistance to targeted therapy over time.
A number of newer, more potent targeted therapies were developed in 2014 that further reduce side effects and help overcome resistance, at least for some time. Targeted therapy treatments have evolved and improved for patients with certain forms of lung cancer, leukemia, breast cancer and renal cell carcinoma.
Patients with cancer and their family members should be prepared to ask how specific the targeted treatment is for their own type of cancer (how well does it target their type of cancer cell), how long most people stay on the treatment, the benefits from the treatment, and what the side effects could be like. More...