The Good News About Cancer
The Next Cancer Breakthroughs
We talked with Allen S. Lichter, M.D., head of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and other top cancer-research experts. They mentioned many promising areas, from targeting a cancer's genetic fingerprint to finding new blood markers for early detection, as well as the ones below.
Stopping Cancer Stem Cells
one of the most exciting recent medical discoveries is that many cancers seem to have a small number of self-renewing stemlike cells that fuel most of the growth of a tumor. The theory is that these cells may remain even after a tumor is treated or removed surgically, so they can still cause the cancer to spread. The trick is to figure out a way to home in on and get rid of those stem cells (and thus, presumably, the cancer) without harming healthy cells.
We know now that the human papillomavirus is linked to some cervical, oral and head and neck cancers. Many researchers are exploring other possible infectious causes of cancer as well as methods of using the body's immune system to attack these cancers. "There are some tantalizing hints that we can make the body defend itself against cancer cells with vaccines," says Dr. Lichter. "It's difficult and complex work but ripe with possibility."
"We're going to see new ways of delivering therapies right to cancer cells," says Dr. Lichter. This means assembling extremely tiny carriers that can literally stick medication onto a cancer cell, and maybe also an imaging molecule to show that it got there and did its job. There may even be a nano way to remove cancer cells from the body. While there are still hurdles, including toxicity, "there's tremendous excitement about this," says Dr. Lichter.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2010.
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