Research into cancer treatments has steadily looked into many previously unthinkable or initially odd methods to slow or prevent the spread of the disease. During 2012 a patient had finished the most traditional types of treatment, including more than a year of chemotherapy, without any real effect to slow the acute cancer she had. She was still a child, so it was her parents who decided to enroll her in an experimental treatment. The treatment removes blood from the patient to genetically alter the T cells. The modified T cells are then returned to the patient’s body with the hope that they will attack the cancerous tumors through the proteins those tumors have. The treatment is called the CAR-T. The young patient began to run a high fever immediately after the treatment as her immune system responded to the treatment, resulting on her being put on life support. An anti-inflammatory drug helped to lower her immune system’s response. After 8 years, her cancer is still in remission.
While many reports are posted about COVID-19, these medical professionals remain focused on cancer because it could pose a greater threat in the future. The number of cancer screenings has decreased during quarantine, which will likely result in a higher number of cases of cancer being found in the later stages. By catching cancer in an earlier stage, medical professionals have a greater chance of successfully treating the disease. Medical professionals have looked for ways to have remote meetings to help people feel safer in seeking medical treatment. This will help make people feel better about resuming more normal visits, but a more robust treatment for the later stages of cancer will be necessary as it is likely that the number of late stage cancer cases will increase following the pandemic.
Based on studies by medical scientist James Allison, researchers have seen T cells being slowed so that the body is less able to attack the cancerous tumors. CAR-T is meant to restore the T cell’s ability to go against the problem. As a result of new treatments like this, some of the more aggressive and advanced cancers have seen improvements in survival rates that went from seven months to more than five years in about half of advanced melanoma patients. Several trials have been conducted for pancreatic cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and lymphoma, all aggressive forms of cancer. The results have been largely positive, with patients showing no signs of cancer a few years after the treatment. They are continuing to research how to treat patients when the cancer reoccurs, as well as how to get treatments to areas where there aren’t cancer treatment centers.
The article covers a range of other barriers to treatment, and the things that the teams are doing to mitigate those barriers. Expecting an increase in later stage cancers has made them more proactive in trying to improve the odds that these patients will survive. If you would like to learn more about how the pandemic has affected cancer treatment and planning, check out Breakthrough Cancer Therapies Offer Hope for Patients.