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What have been some breakthroughs in cancer medicine in recent years?
We’ve had many breakthroughs in cancer medicine over the last 10 or 15 years. Just in new chemotherapies that have been developed for specific cancer types, but more importantly over the past 10 years we’ve made a remarkable breakthrough with what oncologists call targeted treatment.
What is targeted treatment?
Targeted treatment is a specific therapy that is given, that’s not chemotherapy, but instead an agent that’s given that particularly attacks a particular target, for example in breast cancer we’ve had the finding of using a receptor on the breast cancer cell that’s called HER2/neu. And we’ve discovered an agent that’s a monoclonal antibody that will specifically target the HER2/neu receptor. So we are still using chemotherapy with breast cancer, but on top of the chemotherapy to fight your breast cancer we are now able to use a targeted treatment in the 30 percent of patients that have the HER2/neu receptor positive.
What are the types of targeted treatment?
One of the first types of targeted treatment that was discovered was a monoclonal antibody against a receptor in lymphoma. B cell lymphoma patients have a receptor that’s called CD20. A monoclonal antibody by the name of Rituxan was discovered and it is now common practice to use Rituxan, a targeted treatment, or an antibody that’s been developed to attack only the CD20 marker. This monoclonal antibody or targeted treatment is now common practice to be administered along with chemotherapy in our lymphoma treatments.
Why is targeted treatment an important breakthrough?
Targeted treatment is not only very important in improving our response rates to standard chemotherapy, but it’s also very important because there are many patients that we see in oncology that are too ill to receive chemotherapy or they have too many other medical conditions or they’re elderly and chemotherapy would be very difficult for them to be able to tolerate. But we know diseases such as lymphoma which can respond very well to treatment and we can give many more additional years of life can now be treated with treatments such as monoclonal antibodies that are targeted towards lymphoma.
So it is not unusual that an elderly patient that may be in their 80s or 90s to receive treatment with the monoclonal antibody or a targeted treatment such as Rituxan and be able to add many more years to their life. So as an oncologist we get very excited when we hear about monoclonal antibodies or targeted treatment because for so many years we know that chemotherapy comes at a price, but we have made so many advances in the last several years with different modalities of treatment and one of those is targeted treatment.
How are these types of treatments discovered?
As a cancer patient this is very exciting news, but we would have never come to learning about these new modalities of treatment if we didn’t have clinical trials. So one of the things that I try to instill in my patients is to ask me every day, ask your oncologist, what out there is new for my type of cancer? Are there clinical trials that I can enroll in to try out new treatments? Because enrolling into clinical trials, we are finding new medicines making new breakthroughs so we could improve the treatment for your type of cancer and hopefully find a cure.
Find a San Diego Oncologist
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego oncologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.