Cancer Diagnostics

Latest Advancements in Medicine for Cancer Treatment

For many years, the standard treatments for cancer have involved chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Doctors then began using multimodal approach with experimental therapies to improve prognosis of cancer and treatment results.

Despite these treatments, cancer remains a public health problem in many parts of the world. The American Cancer Society projected 1,596,670 new cancer cases in the United States in 2011. Because of the persistence of this disease, medical researchers are exploring novel approaches to the treatment of cancer including immunotherapy, suicide gene therapy and personalized medicine.


Immunotherapy enhances or suppresses the body’s immune response to help fight tumor cells. Recent studies have been based on training the body’s T cells, referred to as tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), to attack cancerous cells.

In 2010, a vaccine used to boost the body’s immune response to cancer called Sipuleucel-T was approved by the FDA to treat prostate cancer. While not a cure, the vaccine can increase the patient’s survival rate.

Immune responses can also be manipulated with an antibody. In studies, the antibody Ipilimumab enhanced anti-tumor immune responses. In 2011, it was approved by the FDA for treating metastatic melanoma, and researchers are testing the drug on other tumors.

In another study, the epigenetic drug SAHA/Vorinostat improved the body’s immune response to malignant mesothelioma cells. After injecting SAHA into mice with mesothelioma, the tumors decreased in size and lymphocyte activity increased. Large clusters of immune cells were also present.

Suicide Gene Therapy

Cancer cells are resistant to apoptosis or natural cell death. Some cancerous cells, like those found in mesothelioma, are especially resistant. In suicide gene therapy, scientists create viruses in the lab to attach to cancer cells. These viruses can recode the DNA of cancer cells and cause them to die over time.

In one study, researchers used the herpes simplex virus-1 thymidine kinase (HSVtk) in 30 patients with mesothelioma to induce apoptosis. Researchers reported minimal side effects and positive results. Normally, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma survive for one year. Several patients survived for over three years, and one was still alive after 10 years.

Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine promotes the customization of health care using genetic or other information unique to the individual patient. Rather than advocating a “one size fits all” approach to cancer treatment, proponents of this medical model target markers in individual tumors. These markers allow doctors to find specific drugs tailored to attack that specific tumor type.

Researchers match the specific mutation to a drug currently on the market or in a clinical trial. Mutations in two current markers called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and K-ras help classify tumors and inform treatment decisions.

A study published in the International Journal of Proteomics revealed that targeted drug therapies have a 70 to 75 percent efficacy as opposed to the 35 percent efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation. Targeted drugs like Gefitinib and Erlotinib treat small cell lung cancer and are proven to increase quality of life compared to chemotherapy.

Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas researches and writes about asbestos and its related diseases for The Mesothelioma Center.


Levitzki, A. (2012). Targeting the immune system to fight cancer using the chemical receptor homing vectors carrying polyinosine/cytosine (polyIC). Retrieved from

Xia, T, Jiang, H., Li, C., Tian, M., & Zhang, H. (2012). Molecular imaging in tracking tumor stem-like cells. Retrieved from

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