How are researchers and clinicians trying to overcome the challenges of ever-changing mutations?
- Cancer grows because the sequence of mutations evolves over time (Darwinian effect), making the cancer difficult to treat.
- Precision medicine seeks to individualize patient care by understanding a patient’s inherited genes and the genes and mutations present in tumor tissue. Such information allows doctors to select treatments that are most applicable to an individual patient. Accumulating genetic data from many patients can also inform new approaches to cancer research.
- Preventing cancer is still an important strategy in overcoming cancer; examples are screening, vaccines, and genetic testing.
- Other ways to overcome the challenges of cancer are being explored: use of multiple drugs and targeting the essential alterations in cell physiology that collectively dictate malignant growth (the Hallmarks of Cancer).
- An exciting new treatment approach is immunotherapy that uses parts of a person’s immune system to boost or stimulate the natural defenses of the immune system so it works harder or smarter to find and attack cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy has shown success in the treatment of melanoma, lung cancer, colon cancer, and kidney cancer.
- The best indication of likely response to immunotherapy is the presence of a large number of mutations.