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Is there a cure for cancer?
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If so, how close are we? Still, cancer cells can remain in the body, even after complete remission. This means the cancer can come back. But recent advances in medicine and technology are helping move us closer than ever to a cure. Read on to learn more about these emerging treatments and what they could mean for the future of cancer treatment.
The immune system is made up of a variety of organs, cells, and tissues that help the body fight off foreign invaders, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. There are several ways of providing this help. When you think of vaccines, you probably think of them in the context of preventing infectious diseases, like measles, tetanus, and the flu. But some vaccines can help prevent — or even treat — certain types of cancer. Researchers have also been working to develop a vaccine that helps the immune system directly fight cancer cells.
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Administering a vaccine containing these molecules can help the immune system better recognize and destroy cancer cells. Researchers are currently working on developing and testing new vaccines to both prevent and treat certain types of cancer. T cells are a kind of immune cell. They destroy foreign invaders detected by your immune system. T-cell therapy involves removing these cells and sending them to a lab.
The cells that seem most responsive against cancer cells are separated and grown in large quantities. These T cells are then injected back into your body. During treatment, T cells are extracted and modified to add a receptor to their surface. Clinical trials are in progress to determine how T-cell therapies might be able to treat other types of cancer. Antibodies are proteins produced by B cells, another type of immune cell. Once an antibody binds to an antigen, T cells can find and destroy the antigen. Monoclonal antibody therapy involves making large quantities of antibodies that recognize antigens that tend to be found on the surfaces of cancer cells.
There are many types of monoclonal antibodies that have been developed for cancer therapy.
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Some examples include:. The immune system is designed to attach foreign invaders without destroying other cells in the body. Usually, checkpoint molecules on the surfaces of cells prevent T cells from attacking them. Checkpoint inhibitors help T cells avoid these checkpoints, allowing them to better attack cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are used to treat a variety of cancers, including lung cancer and skin cancer.
Gene therapy is a form of treating disease by editing or altering the genes within the cells of the body. Genes contain the code that produces many different kinds of proteins. Proteins, in turn, affect how cells grow, behave, and communicate with each other. And they also generally cost us all the same. But that person you see at work, at school or in an airport halfway around the world might have had skin cancer. And while each of them might have the same smartphone in their pocket, and each of them might have paid the same amount for it, none of them had the same cancer.
Each person got a medicine made specifically for their cancer. And it took biomedical researchers, oncologists, government, academic experts and others to help determine exactly which medicine would work best for each of them. But it costs more — much more — to create a medicine for an individual.
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While the need to target medicines to narrow populations is one reason, another is that success usually comes only after extensive failures. We must remember cancer is an extremely complex set of more than diseases, and the path to new cancer medicines is paved with potential treatments that do not make it past clinical trials. Similarly, potential lung cancer medicines failed in clinical testing, while 10 were approved.
And three potential brain cancer treatments were approved, compared to 75 that failed. And, importantly, the full clinical value of a medicine may not be known for years after it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration FDA. There is no reward without risk and continued investment.
That is why biopharmaceutical companies continue to search for new treatments despite these incredible odds. After all, the societal value of medicines is evident: longer lives mean more time with family, friends, work or however you choose. And there is hope for the future.
Right now biopharmaceutical companies currently have medicines and vaccines to treat or prevent cancer in clinical trials or awaiting FDA review. The biopharmaceutical pipeline has never been more promising. But for the full promise of medical innovation to be achieved, we must ensure that patients who need these medicines are able to access them.
Rapidly growing cost-sharing for cancer medicines is making it harder for patients to afford life-saving medicines that can transform their lives. And it distorts the important public dialogue about the cost of cancer medicines by making cancer medicines appear to be more expensive than they are, particularly compared to other health care services.
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Why are cancer drugs expensive? But so is: what is the ultimate value of cancer medicines for patients?
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If we only ask ourselves the first question and ignore the second, it could have unintended consequences for the millions of patients who are asking themselves every day: what if I never get cured? The dramatic plunge in smoking rates since the s has saved , lives in the United States alone and accounts for most of the recent drop in cancer mortality, a American study concluded. Spinelli, at the B. One involving , Canadians is underway, but it should just be the beginning, he said.
Meanwhile, countless more lives could be saved by taking advantage of what we know already about risk factors. Unique estimates by Cancer Research U. Email: tblackwell nationalpost. All rights reserved.