Medical Breakthroughs: Personalized Therapy for Cancer Treatment
As the quality of life, the quality of medicine and technology improve... the average life expectancy has significantly increased as well.
Consequently, one common interest we share worldwide: how to stay healthy and disease free? When we do get sick, how do we combat the disease?
One in three Koreans will hear the words "you have cancer" at some point in life. It's one in two in the UK and somewhere around 40 percent in the United States.
That's a stark figure.
And it's a reminder of the challenge we face in beating this disease.
But, that's not to say we aren't marking progress: more people are beating cancer today than ever before.
Survival rate has doubled in the last 40 years.
And more than half of those diagnosed will survive their cancer for more than five years - that's an all time high.
Recent advancements in medical sciences have changed how cancer is treated from person to person.
It's called Personalized or 'Precision' Medicine.
A new era of cancer treatment is beginning in which patients get drugs matched specifically to their tumor.
It's about targeting treatment so that it's more powerful but with less side effects.
All this is made possible by advances in genetic profiling of the tumor itself. "We preserve samples of cancer tissues and provide research scientists studying and searching for better cancer treatment options. They are also used for clinical research."
Through the analysis of tumors and genetic sequencing, researchers are able to create new diagnostic and prognostic tools and identify targets for new drug therapies. "Genomic analysis is a relatively new way to look for unique genetic mutations in cancer tumors. The DNA sequence information from individual patients can be used to tailor what therapy they should get."
They look for mutations that may allow a cancer to be treated with a medicine that specifically targets that mutation... that's called Targeted Cancer Therapy.
Targeted therapy zeroes in on cancer's specific genes and proteins that allow the cancer cells to grow and survive.
It attacks cancer cells while avoiding normal cells. "In certain types of lung cancer, targeted therapy have shown great performance. Nine out of ten patients saw their tumor shrink and remained responsive to the drug for about a year. We can now anticipate over three years of survival for these patients compared to barely a year under traditional chemotherapy."
74-year-old Ko Sang-jae was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2015. One surgery and three chemo cycles later, doctors found that his tumor had returned.
That's when his oncologist proposed targeted therapy. It was nearly a year and half ago.
The targeted treatment is still working very well.
All your test results look good.
I think we can keep you on this drug.
Ko says he feels remarkably fine. In fact, the 74-year-old just came back from a ten day tour of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. "My friends and family were very worried about my trip. They couldn't imagine a person on chemotherapy traveling outside of the country. But, I came back feeling fine. I just stick to the basic guidelines and never miss my doctor's appointments. I think that's the best way to beat this disease."
Medical oncologist Kang Jin-hyoung has been studying and administering chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy for decades.
Every one of a patient's tumor cells share a unique biological flag.
Significantly, they also found T-cells the immune system's assassins that are able to zero in on the flag.
Normally the cancer fights back deactivating the T-cells and allowing the tumor to keep growing. The T-cells could be switched back on to wipe the tumor for good. It's called immunotherapy. "The key point here is that the overall survival curve plateaus at around 18 months and patients who are responding at that point continue to respond. So, although it may only apply to a small population, those who do have good responses really seem to be protected against the disease... and may end up becoming long-term survivors."
Dr. Kang notes this durability of response is the most important take away and a marked distinction from other approaches where you see more rapid development of resistant disease.
Experts like Kang remain cautious about safety and efficacy of this potentially fourth pillar in cancer treatment.