The frightening statistic is all too well known – 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. In this seasonal update we explore all that has been achieved during summer 2017 in our fight against the Big C, including further steps forward for prostate survival rates, a potentially revolutionary treatment to contend with chemo and a study that could mean much to those with late stage cancer.
The Landscape of Cancer Today
We remain at war with cancer – scientists continue to strive for steps leading closer to a cure, yet we shouldn’t dismiss all that has been achieved to date. Today, 50% of us survive cancer for 10 years or more, cancer death rates after diagnosis have fallen by 10% in as many years, and survival has doubled over the course of the last four decades.
Alongside these improvements is fundraising that is funnelling more money into cancer research than ever before, with Cancer Research UK having supported research over 2016/17 worth £386 million.
Yet despite the positive news, something ominous looms – the fact that cancer rates are rising, the rate of 1 in 2 of us being given that stark diagnosis at some stage in our lives has risen from 1 in 3 of us previously. Let us be clear here: this is linked to a change in calculation of this figure, yet it also signifies a gradual rise in incidence over the past few decades.
Safe to say that while the war is far from over, the white flag is being waved by cancer on many fronts – which we explore next.
Prostate Cancer and the Rise of the Robots
Prostate cancer survival rates are amongst the most promising, with 84% of those diagnosed surviving for 10 years or more. Leaps have also been made to deal with the impact of rightly feared side effects, such as erectile dysfunction – a shining example of which is the Da Vinci Robot – a surgical robot that is now in use up and down the country.
“This means risk of the complication feared most by men, erectile dysfunction, may be reduced.
The robot performs at least twice as well as the best surgeon in getting all the cancer out in one go – reducing the need for repeat surgery, and greater risk of erectile dysfunction and incontinence”.
– Christopher Ogden is a surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London
Two key moments this summer could lead to this promising rate being bolstered further, the first of which involves a step forward once more with technology – in the form of nanomachines. These minuscule spinning molecules drill into cancer cells, killing them off within 60 seconds.
“We are moving towards realising our ambition to be able to use light-activated nanomachines to target cancer cells such as those in breast tumours and skin melanomas, including those that are resistant to existing chemotherapy.
Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in non-invasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally”.
– Dr Robert Pal of Durham University
While in another study a brand new imaging technique has been established that reports accurate oxygen levels in prostate tumours – something that could naturally lead to the development of non-invasive prostate cancer treatment.
CICD – A Rival Treatment That Could Overtake Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy has a long and illustrious history as the leading weapon against cancer – and its story dates all the way back to the 1940s. Yet it might be that a new way to eradicate cancer cells has just been discovered. Known as Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD), during experimental models this method achieved 100% eradication of tumours.
Currently chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy work through ‘apoptosis’ – a process that cultivates proteins that eventually kills cells. However such therapies often fail to completely eradicate cancer cells, and come with many unpleasant symptoms (some of which can even encourage cancer).
“Our research found that triggering Caspase-Independent Cell Death (CICD), but not apoptosis, often led to complete tumour regression.
Especially under conditions of partial therapeutic response, as our experiments mimic, our data suggests that triggering tumour-specific CICD, rather than apoptosis, may be a more effective way to treat cancer”
– Dr Stephen Tait, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, from the Institute of Cancer Sciences
Whilst these findings are in their first fledgling stages, researchers are already in agreement as to taking the research further. If confirmed and developed, the future of cancer treatment could look very different in the future, to how it looks today.
A Study for Advanced Cancer
Relatively few studies hone in on advanced cancer and solid tumours across numerous types of cancer. This week, a revolutionary trial in this area is just beginning. Funded by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development, the trial focuses on what researchers believe to be a fault in the p53 gene. This will hopefully improve outcomes for future sufferers of metastatic bowel cancer, squamous non-small cell lung cancer and high grade serous ovarian cancer (which all have high levels of p53 mutation and functional loss).
“New drugs like this one to treat advanced types of cancer are vital to ensure three in four people survive their disease by 2035”.
– Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK
It’s been a Long, Hard Summer
These three break-throughs are set against a backdrop of advancements being made. Discover just what’s been happening in research labs up and down the UK and around the world…