Over time, researchers and physician-scientists have determined that precision surgery that spares surrounding tissue, especially in prostate and breast cancers, can offer just as much benefit in many cases as more radical surgery.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs administered to the entire body to kill cancer cells wherever they are, even beyond the primary disease site. These drugs can have side effects but can also be extremely effective at treating cancers of a variety of types. Chemotherapy will often target many different aspects of the cancer to ensure that the cancer cannot become resistant to any one treatment. In general chemotherapies target the processes that cells need to rapidly divide.
The third type of traditional cancer treatment is radiation therapy. Radiation therapy targets directed energy to specific parts of the body and can often reach where a surgeon’s scalpel cannot. Over time, radiation therapy has gotten both more powerful and more precise, enabling physicians to target regions deep inside the patient without undue damage to healthy tissue. These therapies form the backbone of cancer treatment at the LCRC partner institutions’ cancer clinics.
In addition to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, there are multiple more recently developed types of cancer therapies utilized by LCRC physicians. Targeted therapies are able to zero in on unique attributes of cancers and effect those cells alone, not other healthy cells. A number of cancers, including some types of breast and blood cancers, have seen their treatment profiles and survival rates dramatically altered by the discovery of targeted therapies. Advances in gene sequencing have led to many researchers studying how to group cancers based on what targeted therapies are most likely to work, rather than by anatomical site.
Immune therapies are also relative newcomers to the anti-cancer arsenal. Many cancers are able to trick the immune system into ignoring them. New classes of drugs unmask these cancers and expose them to the immune system. Cellular therapies, called CAR-T therapies, use engineered cells of the patient’s own immune system to home in and destroy cancer cells. They have shown promise with some, but not all, cancer types and will continue to be evaluated in the clinic and refined in the lab. These next-generation strategies, as well as advanced forms of classical therapies like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, are continually employed and advanced in the lab by LCRC partner researchers.