5 advances in cancer treatment

Cynthia Weiss | (TNS) Mayo Clinic News Network

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: In the past year, several family members have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, including leukemia, melanoma, breast cancer and colon cancer. In talking about treatments, it seems as if there is more available today than in the past. Can you share some of the advances in cancer care? What should I know as far as my risk for cancer?

ANSWER: Although the rate of cancer diagnosis has fallen slightly post-COVID-19, cancer remains a common diagnosis in the U.S., affecting almost 2 million people annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.

The chronic nature of cancer is one of the reasons why there is so much research happening with countless organizations, including Mayo Clinic, which is always identifying and evaluating new treatment options to improve outcomes and reduce the burden of cancer for patients and their families.

Advancements in cancer therapy are increasing survival rates and offering hope for a cure to more people. We are now treating cancer more precisely and with fewer side effects. Here are five innovative cancer treatments that are changing the landscape of cancer.

CAR-T cell therapy

Chimeric antigen receptor-T cell therapy (CAR-T) is a relatively new therapy that was first approved in 2017 for the treatment of certain types of lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma. Mayo Clinic was one of the centers that treated people as part of the clinical trial that led to the approval of this treatment.

CAR-T cell therapy uses the power of your immune system to fight your cancer. It involves modifying your immune cells and training them to attack the cancer cells in your body. CAR-T cell therapy is used to treat various conditions including specific types of lymphomas and leukemias, as well as multiple myeloma. With CAR-T cell therapy, about 70% to 80% of people with lymphoma experience remission, meaning their symptoms of cancer are reduced or gone. More studies are underway using CAR-T cell therapies with more diseases and fewer side effects.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors

These therapies enhance your immune system’s ability to detect and eliminate cancer cells. The inhibitors stop your body’s natural checkpoints from limiting the body’s immune response to cancer cells. The first checkpoint inhibitor was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 to treat melanoma. Since then, 15 more immune checkpoint inhibitors have been approved to treat over a dozen cancers, including small-cell lung, liver and colorectal cancers.

Minimally invasive surgery

For many people, surgery remains a necessary part of their cancer treatment. Minimally invasive surgery is defined as the use of small incisions and specialized instruments to remove cancer tissue. Since the incisions are smaller than in traditional procedures, minimally invasive surgery is associated with less pain, fewer complications and faster recovery times. In recent years, minimally invasive surgical techniques have evolved further, and some surgeons are even using robotic technology to work more accurately and safely in the body’s smallest spaces. Robotic surgery techniques are available for more diseases than ever before.

Personalized cancer vaccines

Similar to vaccines for childhood diseases and other illnesses, cancer vaccines have the potential not only to treat certain cancers but to prevent its recurrence. Several cancer vaccines already are approved to treat melanoma, bladder cancer and prostate cancer, but researchers are incredibly excited about personalized mRNA cancer vaccines. These vaccines would be custom-made for an individual based on the specific genetic features of their tumor. Personalized mRNA cancer vaccines are expected to be accessible within this decade.

Researchers are learning more about how these methods work by studying vaccines, as they can be used to treat cancer and prevent its recurrence. This understanding is paving the way for the potential to vaccinate preventively against some cancers, just as we do with many viral illnesses.

Advances in radiation therapies

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