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Revolution In Cancer Treatment: 2 New Therapies May Help Patients 'Live Again'

Revolution In Cancer Treatment: 2 New Therapies May Help Patients 'Live Again'
Cancer can be devastating to the individuals and families it affects. The disease affects routines, roles, and relationships with others. Luckily, in the age of cancer research, millions of Americans are surviving the horrible disease, showing how well you can live with cancer rather than die with cancer.In Big Think's latest video, "2 New Cancer Treatments That Give Patients Hope Again" medical researcher Dr. David Agus explains we are living in the lucky days of cancer research. He discussed two current revolutions in cancer therapy that could potentially eliminate all types of cancer.The first cancer therapy was successfully tested by former US President Jimmy Carter — immunotherapy. When cancer cells appear, they send out a "don't eat me" signal to the immune system. Now, there are approved immunotherapy drugs that block that "don't eat me" signal, and allow the immune system to come in and basically "eat" - or attack - the cancer. Skin cancer melanoma, kidney cancer, and some types of lung cancer have had dramatic results with immunotherapy. According to Agus, immunotherapy teaches you how to harness the power of your own immune system to attack cancer on a more daily basis than conventional chemotherapy treatments can.The second cancer treatment is known as precision, or personalized medicine. This means if you have cancer, a doctor can take a piece of your cancer and sequence the DNA to look at what genes are “turned on” and what genes are “turned off” to hopefully develop a way to “turn off” the genes driving a particular cancer. This treatment works on many patients, but not all, because doctors don't yet know all the drivers."We don't have drugs to turn off every gene, but I can sequence the DNA of the cancer and develop a personalized therapy of that patient" said Agus, in the video.For example, there may be a drug that was FDA approved for breast cancer, that gene is driving lung cancer, and therefore, it can be used in that patient.These new treatments reflect another way of thinking about cancer. In the 1800s in Europe, doctors started to classify cancer by body part — you have breast cancer, you have prostate cancer or lung cancer. However, the next generation of students of doctors are going to classify cancer by what are the on switches and the off switches, regardless of the body part it originated.For Agus, “cancer is a verb and not a noun.” “You're cancering,” he said.Cancer is something the body does and not that the body gets. This philosophy provides a different way of approaching disease. So doctors are learning a lot about new ways to target the cancer and treat it and immunotherapy molecular targeted therapy. at the same time they are looking to change that system so the cancer doesn't want to grow. Youtube

Cancer can be devastating to the individuals and families it affects. The disease alters patients' routines, roles, and relationships with others. Luckily, in the age of cancer research, millions more Americans are surviving the horrible disease, showing that you can live with cancer rather than die from it. In Big Think's latest video, "2 New Cancer Treatments That Give Patients Hope Again," medical researcher Dr. David Agus explains two current revolutions in cancer therapy that could potentially eliminate all types of cancer.

The first treatment, known as immunotherapy, was successfully tested on former president Jimmy Carter. When cancer cells appear, they send out a "don't eat me" signal to the immune system. But now, there are drugs that can block that "don't eat me" signal, which allows the immune system to come in and "eat" — or attack — cancer cells. Immunotherapy has shown dramatic results with melanoma, kidney cancer, and some types of lung cancer. According to Agus, immunotherapy teaches you how to harness the power of your own immune system so that it can attack cancer on a more frequent basis than conventional chemotherapy treatments.

The second cancer treatment is known as precision, or personalized medicine. This means that if you have cancer, a doctor can take a piece of your cancer and sequence the DNA to look at which genes are “turned on” and which genes are “turned off.” The goal of this treatment is to develop a way to turn off the genes driving a particular cancer. Because this is still a developing therapy, though, it doesn't work on all patients. 

"We don't have drugs to turn off every gene, but I can sequence the DNA of the cancer and develop a personalized therapy of that patient" Agus said in the video.

These new treatments reflect another way of thinking about cancer. In the 1800s, European doctors were classifying cancer by the body part it affected — hence breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Today, however, students and doctors are beginning to classify cancer by the genes that are driving the disease, which sometimes might apply to more than one cancer. 

For Agus, “cancer is a verb and not a noun. ... You're cancering,” he said.

Cancer is something the body does, not something the body gets, he said. This philosophy provides a new way of approaching the disease, and encourages doctors to target and treat it with new, more effective therapies. 

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