December 3, 2019
The most recent information we have regarding cancer cases estimates that there will be 1.8 million new cases and over 600,000 deaths this year. The most common types, in order, are as follows:
- Breast cancer
- Lung/bronchus cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colon/rectum cancer
- Skin melanoma
- Bladder cancer
Whether or not we are getting closer to a cancer-free society is a bit of a question mark. Overall deaths have decreased over the last decade, but we don’t have any concrete progress in the form of a cure. Also, risk factors like an aging population, and obesity rates are on the rise. This means that the best options patients have in terms of minimizing the risk of death from cancer are early detection and treatment. There have been a lot of diagnostic advancements made in this regard. Here are some of the most notable examples.
Investigational Blood Tests: While the science behind this concept of a “liquid biopsy” is still developing, we may not be far away from a future where cancer can be detected with a simple blood test. In a study, one blood test focusing on assessing biomarkers and tumor-specific mutations was able to detect eight types of cancer in previously diagnosed patients. These included the stomach, breast, and ovary cancer. The reason why advancements in this regard are so significant is that a hypothetical blood test could be able to detect signs of cancer faster than medical imaging would.
Virtual Colonoscopy: Colon and rectal cancers are among the most common types, especially for people above 50. However, misgivings about the procedure cause many people to avoid the roughly 10-year cycle that you should have this done. To help with this issue, virtual colonoscopies have been developed. This procedure uses state-of-the-art medical imaging technology to capture images of the colon and rectum that can detect any polyps or other precursors to colorectal cancer. Most importantly, for patients, this procedure is far less invasive than your conventional colonoscopy. The one trade-off is that you are recommended to do this every five years rather than 10 years. Also, if your virtual colonoscopy detects any polyps, you’ll need to schedule a conventional colonoscopy for removal.
Deep Learning: AI applications are changing the medical world, and the potential for deep learning in terms of cancer detection is no different. Compared to the other two options that we’ve discussed, this technology is still in a hypothetical stage of development as of right now. Google made headlines last year when it was reported that a deep learning tool the company developed was able to identify metastasized breast cancer cells with 99% accuracy. The main benefit here is the ability to predict the spread of cancer with greater accuracy, which has been an issue in the past. Other scientists have done studies on the applications of deep learning in cancer detection, but it will likely be some time before you see it in use at your doctor’s office.
Along with these developments, we should also talk about some of the advancements in terms of cancer treatment over the last few years. The notion of a cure may be in the far future, but there are new and effective treatment options that are helping cancer patients right now.
One of the top options here is immunotherapy. Medically speaking, your immune system should be able to detect and destroy cancer on its own. However, the condition prevents your immune system from attacking the cancer properly. This is where immunotherapy comes in, and it essentially helps your immune system do its job. This is accomplished through a few methods:
- Checkpoint inhibitors. Healthy cells have proteins called checkpoints that alert your immune system not to attack them. However, cancer cells can primarily use this to hide in some cases. Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block these proteins so the immune system can do its job.
- Immune system modulators. These are substances that help boost your natural immune function to fight against cancer. This can be done by activating more immune cells or helping existing cells communicate better to attack infected cells.
One common issue that happens with immunotherapy in its current state is that patients can sometimes develop a resistance to the treatments, such as checkpoint inhibitors. However, there are vaccines and other methods in development to help mitigate this problem.
Despite the prevalence of different types of cancer, early detection and treatment are the best assets you have in terms of minimizing the chance of major effects. As a result, you want to make sure you regularly see medical professionals you trust for tests and screenings. At Healthcare Associates of Texas, we serve the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area at 15 locations. Our combination of expertise and service makes us the best fit for those who want to take an active role in maintaining their health and wellbeing.
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