We Need Many Cures for Cancer – Not Just One
To read the headlines about cancer, you’d think we’re inches away from a cure: “T-cell therapy: Have we just discovered the cure for cancer?” (Independent); “Is an American cure for cancer possible?” (CNN); and again: “How close are we to curing cancer?” (Telegraph)
But all of these articles miss the point: there is no single cure for cancer, because cancer is not a single disease. Cancer.gov lists over 177 cancer types on their website.
Cancer has many faces. It may be fast-growing or slow-growing. It might appear in the blood with no apparent tumors, or manifest with multiple tumors at once. It originates in many different types of tissue. Even within a single tissue, cancer develops in different ways–there are more than a dozen types of leukemia, each one with distinct symptoms. There are three main types of lung cancer, four types of melanoma, seven different cancers that can grow in the colon—and the list goes on.
Why then, with so many different manifestations of this disease, do we insist on finding a single cure? We don’t need just one cure for cancer. We need many.
Why Do We Need So Many Different Cures for Cancer?
Every cancer that develops in the human body is a result of a specific set of genetic mutations. Some of these mutations may have been inherited at birth, while others are acquired over the course of a patient’s lifetime. When DNA in a single cell becomes critically altered, cancer can result. The root cause of a patient’s cancer–the genetic alterations in their cells–is unique to each person.
Precision medicine is the practice of using this unique genomic information to craft a targeted treatment plan that will attack the specific gene mutations responsible for their cancer. Simply put, it’s allows for more precise treatments for your cancer.
And yet, our medical standards of care have yet to catch up with technology. Oncologists across the country often prescribe the same broadly-used cancer treatments, including radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy–without insight into a patient’s genomic data. When you receive targeted therapy, you may still undergo radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy, but it will be because those treatments have been tailored to fit the genetic profile of your disease.
The Path to Targeted Treatments Runs Through Clinical Trials
Cancer clinical trials represent the newest treatments that science has to offer every unique individual. Many clinical trials testing drugs tailored to a patient’s specific mutations are currently underway in the United States. With thousands of trials available, the focus is shifting from finding A cure for cancer, to finding YOUR cure for cancer.
Knowing all you can about your specific cancer is critical to getting the best care possible. Talk to your doctor, consider clinical trials, educate yourself on all options for your care. Cancer treatment isn’t “one size fits all”. Find the best treatment option for your cancer.