Around 2.25 million people in India are living with cancer. The situation worsens every year, with the addition of around 1.15 million cases. Lip, oral cavity cancers top the chart for men where as breast cancer tops the chart for women. Despite numerous studies and experiments, cancer cure remains elusive. Early diagnosis and management are the best bets against this dreadful disease.
Medical care has changed drastically over the past few years. Earlier, cancer care was only possible in a hospital. However, with time, in-hospital care has changed to OPD care or day care in which patients only go to the hospital for chemotherapy sessions.
The next big leap in cancer care is home healthcare. Patients, who are on medical treatment, do not have to travel to a hospital for any procedure and all the treatment can be provided at home with the quality of hospital. The care of patients who require surgical management or radiotherapy has also revolutionised as most of the pre- and post-surgical care, hydration therapy and nutrition therapy are all available at home. Medical care has seen a steady evolution and expected breakthroughs are as follows.
Immunotherapy: Cancers are difficult to fight due to their ability to fool body’s immune system, which often treats them as normal cells. Immunotherapy helps in marking cancer cells and help the immune fight them. Few immunotherapy drugs are already available in the market and few are under clinical trials.
Advanced radiotherapy: The brain controls every system of the human body. Brain cancer can be disabling if not treated. Radiotherapy, the widely accepted treatment for brain cancer, often affect important functions of the brain like memory, processing speed and attention span, often greatly affecting patients’ quality of life. Doctors are working to develop new techniques so that these important functions are spared without compromising on the quality of treatment. Initial trials have shown promise and more trials are underway to develop the final technique. Recently, Chennai’s Apollo hospital opened India’s first proton centre that will use cyclotron to bombard positively charged magnet-controlled proton particles to kill cancer cells. The technique will help patients with tumours in the close proximity of the critical organs.
Liquid biopsy: Tissue biopsies are the confirmatory test for cancer. Tissue from a tumour is collected and studied. In some cases, tissue biopsies are impossible due to the location of a tumour. The surgical procedure also involves high risks and cost. To solve the problem, researchers are exploring a new field called liquid biopsy, which relies on analysing bits of tumour material — molecules as well as whole cells — that are found in bodily fluids such as blood or urine. The technology, still in the infantile phase, can be the future of cancer diagnosis.
Personalised therapy or gene therapy: Available treatments wipe out the healthy cells along with cancerous cells. This led scientists to develop drugs that can specifically target the cancer cells. Initial success came in the form of tisagenlecleucel and axicabtagene, which were approved for certain leukaemia and lymphomas. It is just a matter of time before gene therapy will be available for all types of cancers.