Cancer has ravaged mankind for millennia. The earliest recorded case of breast cancer, for example, dates to 1500 BC. Mummies of ancient Egypt have displayed clear evidence of bone cancer. This deadly disease continues to be one of the major threats to humans and is second only to cardiovascular diseases as the leading cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates upward of 14 million new cases of cancer are reported annually (2012 figures) with a staggering 8.8 million cancer-related deaths reported in 2015.
Conventional Cancer Treatments
Traditionally cancer has been fought with three conventional methods, used singly or in combination: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. These invasive methods of tackling the disease have more often than not put an extra burden on the patient who has had to deal with the toxic aftermath of the treatment (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) and also the slow painful recovery that follows the surgical removal of a tumour. And of course an unfortunate characteristic of cancer is that cancer can come back even after surgery.
These conventional cancer treatments have also had a one-size-fits-all approach to them, failing to recognise each cancer as unique to the individual patient, requiring a unique tailor-made approach and treatment.
Medical advances have however taken this uniqueness of the disease to the individual patient into account. Integrative treatments and therapies are crafted to tackle an individual’s needs which will always differ from those of the next patient. Like so many advances in the medical field doctors have learned to look within for answers. The human body may be prone to disease, but it also carries within it the materials to craft a cure for whatever ails it. This is the idea behind vaccines which are derived from the disease-causing virus in a form that is harmless to you but which target the disease itself.
Recent developments in Oncology
Recent developments in Oncology have come up with a personalised cancer vaccine which galvanizes killer T-cells to attack the mutated proteins peculiar to each patient’s tumour. The success of the vaccine (apparently succeeding in preventing the early relapse in 12 patients with skin cancer and keeping them cancer-free for more than 2 years) brings renewed hope to patients everywhere.
These individualised vaccines are premised upon the idea that mutated cancer proteins are unique to every patient and therefore each vaccine must be specific to each cancer patient’s needs. Indeed the use of a personalised cancer vaccine (in the case study) when combined with a cancer drug was found to boost the patients’ immunity. A team of researchers (comprising physicians and scientists) led by Catherine Wu at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston are behind this new approach in tackling cancer.
The major difference between earlier cancer vaccines is that while they (the earlier vaccines) focused on a single cancer protein common among cancer patients the personalised vaccines contain neoantigens. Neoantigens are mutated proteins peculiar to an individual’s cancerous tumour and which are identified when the tumour is genomically sequenced. When the tumour’s neoantigens (in the form of a vaccine) are introduced into the patient’s immune system they trigger the patient’s T-cells (which are lymphocytes integral to the immune system and which protect the body from infection) to attack the cancer cells. The vaccines produced by Wu and her team were injected under the patients’ skin and targeted 20 neoantigens per patient. This 5-month process produced no side-effects and indicated a robust T-cell response. Two and a half years after the trial all the patients involved are still cancer-free.
Any new advances on the medical front make for exciting news. It is important to remember though that Integrative Cancer Treatments are nothing new and have been changing peoples’ lives for years. Safe and effective, and with particular emphasis on their non-invasive nature, these alternative therapies are at the cutting edge of modern medicine and have eased the lives of patients all over the world.
Should you or a loved one be grappling with the big ‘what next?’ question on your road to recovery you are welcome to contact us for an overview of our treatments and assistance in deciding what would best suit your needs.