Cancer is the enemy and chemotherapy had been one of the tools that doctors have used against it. Doctors have also used two other primary tools, surgery and radiation. However, all three treatment tools have drawbacks. Surgery is invasive and presents other risks. Radiation seeks to destroy abnormally dividing cells but can kill healthy cells also. Chemotherapy treatment is designed to destroy cancer from within but it can also destroy healthy cells.
There is no doubt that cancer treatments with these three tools have improved over the last few decades. However, we are now in a new era of cancer treatment known as “molecularly targeted therapy.” Molecularly Targeted Therapies are more precise strategies designed to attack the cancer and not affect healthy cells. This translates into more effective cancer treatments and fewer complications and side-effects.
Molecularly Targeted Therapies are specific drugs that can be tailored to an individual’s cancer. The basic strategy is to find a specific function that cancer and cancer tumors use to survive and thrive. For example, cancer cells need fuel and they need to reproduce. If researchers can find a specific method to interfere or prevent the cancer cell from obtaining what it needs, such as fuel, then the cancer cells will die.
One of the first drugs that was developed using this strategy is imatinib, also known as Gleevec. This drug, and other new ones, have accomplished success rates as high as 83%. And this is an area that is in its infancy. There is a good chance that these Molecularly Targeted Therapies will prove superior to the most advanced chemotherapy treatments currently used.
It should be mentioned that these new therapies are not perfect. Many cancer tumors have a variety of genetically different cells so often cancer tumors are a challenge that will require multiple drugs. In addition, many cancers can develop a resistance to a specific drug so it will be necessary for doctors to also combat these resistant cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is still a valuable tool for cancer doctors. New delivery methods such as encasing the toxic drug in nano-particles or fat-based bubbles are raising the effectiveness of chemotherapy while reducing the harm to healthy cells. But the future of cancer treatment seems to be Molecularly Targeted Therapy.