Every year 14 million people in the world are diagnosed with cancer and over 32 million are living with cancer. About 150 thousand new cases of cancer are diagnosed in our country every year. The frequency of cancer increases about 1-2 percent every year in just about every country throughout the world. The good news is that thanks to early diagnosis and the new developments in treatment, cancer is now among treatable diseases. Even in incurable cancers or advanced stages of cancer, the disease can still be controlled for a longer period now. Acibadem Maslak Hospital Medical Oncology Specialist Prof. Dr. Özlem Er explained the recent developments in treatments that are not only extending life span but also improving the quality of life.
THE 1ST DEVELOPMENT: SMART DRUGS
In the classic chemotherapy method the cancer cells were prevented from dividing and reproducing but this also prevented, to a certain extent, the reproduction of healthy cells as well. As a result such side effects as a drop in blood values, hair loss, nausea and vomiting occurred. The world of modern medicine began searching for alternative methods to both extend the lives of patients and protect them from the serious side effects of chemotherapy and as a result developed target focused treatment called “smart drugs”. This target focused treatment stops the gene or protein which is critically important in the survival, growth or spreading of cancer cells. Medical Oncology Specialist Prof. Dr. Özlem Er pointed out that this form of treatment, which identifies the targets that are in cancer cells but not in normal cells, is one of the most important developments in cancer treatment in the past 10 years.
Most patients do not experience hair loss or nausea and vomiting
The target focused drugs that increase success rates by 15 percent, are used successfully in a number of types of cancer like breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and renal cell (kidney) cancer. Target focused drugs extend the life span and increase the quality of life. Medical Oncology Specialist Prof. Dr. Özlem Er explained that since target focused drugs have little effect on healthy cells patients are not exposed to severe side effects and added: “For example hair loss is not seen in most patients. Drops in blood values and suppressing the immune system are not a problem. Since normal cells are not targeted side effects like nausea and vomiting and a decrease in blood cells are rarely seen“.
THE 2ND DEVELOPMENT: IMMUNOTHERAPY
The purpose in immunotherapy, a treatment that has come to the forefront in oncology in recent years, is to reactivate the patient’s own immune system so that they can combat the disease. Medical Oncology Specialist Prof. Dr. Özlem Er explained that immunotherapy is being used as the main method of treatment for cancer and continued: “Long term clinical benefits are achieved with immunotherapy. For example in melanoma, which is skin cancer, this method extends the life span in metastatic (spread) disease and the patient can survive for a long time. The studies that started with melanoma quickly moved to other types of cancer. It was shown that immunotherapy also extends life in lung cancer and became the standard treatment in 2015. Some medications use the braking mechanism effectively in controlling the disease. Immunotherapy also promises hope for other types of cancer“.
THE 3RD DEVELOPMENT: PERSONALIZED TREATMENT
Another development in the field of oncology is personalized treatment. Medical Oncology Specialist Prof. Dr. Özlem Er explained the advantages of the personalized treatment, based on the genetic characteristics of a person and their tumor, as follows: “Since it is more effective and has less side effects, this treatment is more comfortable for patients. Even in the same type of cancer there can be differences at a molecular level and responses to treatment may vary. By using this method the genetic characteristics of the person and the tumor are identified and the most suitable medication can be chosen accordingly. Also a cancer cell can be examined at a molecular level to achieve results from the perspective of over 50 genetic differences. Thus a medication suitable to the identified genetic change in the cancer cell can be selected to achieve a highly effective treatment.” These tests are now being recommended especially for lung cancer in international directories. Rapid advancements are being made on the subject of identifying the genetic profile of cancer.
THE 4TH DEVELOPMENT: CANCER PREVENTIVE DRUGS
Prof. Dr. Özlem Er explained that another development in oncology is cancer preventive drugs and added: “High risk groups can be determined in diseases like breast and ovarian cancer and preventive treatment can be administered. In studies published in 2014 it was determined that through use of medication in 4 thousand women with high breast density, a history of breast cancer in the family and changes occurring in their breasts, the development of cancer in 5 years was reduced by 50 percent”.