Even as cancer appears to be striking more and more people, stories of patients making quick recoveries are also pouring in thick and fast. So, are we finally getting on top of the disease? Doctors are always cautious. Harsh Dua, oncologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, says there is no data to prove that the incidence of cancer is increasing. But he agrees that new treatment is making cancer management easier. Mint gives you some of the latest ammunition in the war against cancer.
Better anti-emetics and better chemo drugs
In the old days, chemotherapy meant a treatment method that was more painful than the illness itself—most anti-cancer drugs injected into the bloodstream caused side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and hair loss. One of the most dangerous side effects was a drastic drop in the white blood cell count. Today, as Amit Bhargava, a doctor at Max Hospital, New Delhi, points out, advance research in anti-emetics has put a check on nausea. Also, there are injections available to boost the platelet count. The chemotherapy drugs themselves have become better over the years and have fewer side effects. Debanshu Bhaduri, senior surgical oncologist, M.N. Budhrani Cancer Institute, Pune, points out how infusion time has also become shorter—some of the newer drugs need just one hour as compared with three hours earlier.
One of the major drawbacks of conventional anti-cancer drug treatments is damage to surrounding healthy organs and tissues as many of these drugs are designed simply to destroy fast-growing cells (this is why there is hair loss, since these are among the fastest growing cells in the body). But, using monoclonal antibodies (proteins that attack one type of cancerous cell but do not harm normal cells), and nanotechnology (nano particles that also take a preferential route to cancerous cells), new drug delivery systems have come up that tackle this problem. Drugs such as Herceptin, Mabthera and Rituxinab are examples of targeted therapies. Doctors are increasingly combining these with chemotherapy in their fight against cancer.
Thanks to implantable chemoports, the patient no longer needs to have his or her vein punctured time and again. Besides being extremely convenient, there are many benefits of administering the chemotherapy drugs over the port instead of through the intravenous (IV) drip method.
With this, a patient won’t need to be admitted to hospital, and if his or her veins are weak and he or she hates being pricked and prodded again and again, using the port is comparatively painless. Also, the chances of chemotherapy drug leakage is less—if the drug leaks from the vein (known to happen during IV drip method), then skin necrosis, which never heals, can develop. Finally, getting blood for blood tests can usually be done through the port, decreasing the number of times a patient needs to have a vein “stuck.”
Radiofrequency ablation is one of the many advancements in the medical field to treat certain cancers such as lung, liver and kidney. In this method, to remove small tumours, a special electrode is inserted inside the organ to burn the tumour. Hence, there is no surgery and no side effects.
According to Dr Bhaduri, nutrition plays a key role in cancer management today. “Nutrition can help control tolerance, response, prevention of infection and fatigue and aid in rehabilitation,” he says. If patients become anaemic or develop vitamin B12 deficiency—during chemoradiation or any other form of therapy—it can lead to problems. This is one reason why a nutritionist is one of the key persons involved in cancer management.
According to Dr Bhaduri, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meet in 2006, a very interesting trial was published. In one arm of the trial were patients of breast cancer on chemotherapy. In the other were patients of breast cancer on chemotherapy plus yoga. The findings revealed that the ones with the yoga add-on did better. Dr Bhargava adds that yoga builds up immunity, besides helping in positive thinking.
Finally, based on the results of all these years of treatment, doctors say staying active is the best ammunition in the fight against cancer. “Psychology plays a big role. Positive thinking can only come from daily routine work,” says Dr Bhargava. Subha Barry sums it up: “Fight with all the might and power you have, because between you and the cancer, only one will win—and it had better be you!”