Oncologists have usually maintained that more treatment is better for every cancer patient. This means they have always encouraged cancer patients to get as much surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as possible. But there is a growing concern that too much of these treatments can have serious consequences.
It seems that cancer treatment in the U.S. may be too generalized.
Many people believe that cancer treatment in the United States has generally lost its way. All cancer patients are encouraged to get treatment in the exact same way, but this stands in contrast to almost everything else in the medical field. Each patient is unique and requires different treatments based on their body’s needs. Cancer treatment needs to be more individualized to be more effective.
Many patients simply decide to live with their cancers and decline treatment. One woman with advanced lung cancer recently declined any treatment after she was told that her body would not respond to conventional therapy. The outcome? She outlived many other people with similar cancers by more than a year.
Why is cancer so hard to kill?
It is widely accepted now that cancer is so tough to beat because its cells do not die often enough. A tumor can often be traced back to its original cell that had its origins more than a decade earlier, but it was simply undetectable at that time. By the time the patient is diagnosed, they have been living with cancer for many years. This is true of most colon, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
Cancer cells stay alive so successfully because they can stay alive even when they are being deprived of the things most cells need to survive. They develop their own phenotypes, or cancer genes. There are more than 1,000 of these cancer genes and each one must be altered more than three times in order to survive under deprived conditions.
This means that each patient has a cancer that is one in a billion, so it is different than every other patient’s tumor.
Despite the complexity of cancer, insurers and hospitals are still looking for one-size-fits-all treatments to be developed by oncologists. But using these general treatments on cancers that are so particular to the individual has led to a predictable outcome: less people are being treated successfully. Cancer has also proven to be even more complex than initially thought. It often goes through unpredictable mutations that cannot be understood through gene profiling each patient.
A Different Approach
One new treatment style being utilized by the Physical Sciences Oncology Network is intermittent dosing. This kind of dosing essentially adopts the “less is more” approach. By giving patients their various treatments less often, the response to the treatment is stronger and lasts longer.
Combatting Cancer’s Defenses
Cancer cells have various defenses to treatments, and understanding these defenses is the best way to plan treatments. By understanding which defense a patient’s tumor is using, their treatment can become more individualized and more effective. If we do not understand which defense the cells are using, treatments can actually cause harm to the patient while providing almost no benefit.
This could also open the door for patients who have tumors that resist drugs to try more experimental therapies. If they know that their cancer uses a particular kind of survival process that will be unaffected by typical cancer drugs, then they can look elsewhere to try and battle the disease.