5 Developments in Cancer Treatment You Might Have Missed This Year

By Kayla Matthews, HealthIT writer and technology enthusiast, Tech Blog
Twitter: @ProductiBytes

With so much COVID-19 news coverage, it’s easy to miss other relevant happenings in medicine, such as developments in cancer treatments. Besides making information potentially harder to access, the pandemic also introduced new hardships for people with cancer by complicating their access to care.

Recent research from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network found 79% of people actively undergoing cancer treatments experienced delays. Additionally, 46% had financial situation changes that made paying for medical necessities more difficult.

As the coronavirus continues posing a threat, medical professionals must pay attention to other health news, too. Here are five conclusions about new cancer treatments many people likely missed:

1. A Person’s Diet May Impact Their Chemotherapy Response
Ongoing research about the human gut microbiome indicates it can affect a person’s brain health, immune system, digestion and numerous other aspects of wellness. Researchers at the University of Virginia also discovered that a person’s diet could trigger a gut microbiome response that affects the effectiveness or toxicity of a chemotherapy drug in the body.

Adding a single amino acid to someone’s dietary regimen could cause such alterations, the study showed. Scientists created a model with roundworms that indicated how dietary additions could cause a 100-fold increase in chemotherapy’s dangerous poisonous effects. The researchers said this development might mean cancer patients receive personalized microbe cocktails that boost chemotherapy’s therapeutic outcomes.

2. Old Drugs Demonstrate New Cancer-Fighting Capabilities
Many of the developments in cancer treatments focus on creating new drugs to target affected areas of the body. Those efforts are undoubtedly valid but aren’t the only options. A research group investigated primarily non-cancer drugs to assess their ability to help people with the disease. They examined an assortment of 4,518 drugs and found almost 50 that killed cancer cells.

Some of the pharmaceuticals initially addressed high cholesterol or inflammation. The researchers also found that while most cancer drugs work by blocking proteins, some got results by activating a protein or stabilizing a reaction between two proteins. These discoveries mean oncologists may have a wider variety of drugs to prescribe their patients. Moreover, studying the effects of each drug may speed the creation of new interventions.

3. Researchers Learn More About How Cancer Spreads — and How to Intervene
Cancer cells have a unique metabolism that changes as they signal the presence of malignant disease. Researchers believe the alteration is a fundamental reason why normal cells become cancerous. They’ve also learned that the nutrient uptake and metabolic requirements of cancerous cells differ from those of healthy ones. Learning more about cancer cell activity enables researchers to create better treatments.

A Northwestern University group found that mutations in the RAS and RAF genes let cancer cells make nucleotides — crucial building blocks. They also concluded that cancer cells “hijack” the metabolism of those genes by activating a part of a protein pathway. Doing that directly facilitates nucleotide synthesis. The researchers think this new information may lead to improved treatments that are less likely to lose effectiveness over time.

4. Vitamin C and a Fasting-Mimicking Diet Could Effectively Treat Aggressive Cancers
Many of the new cancer treatments investigated now look at ways to combine therapeutic regimens for better results. A team of researchers subjected rodents to vitamin C and a plant-based, low-calorie diet to treat colorectal cancer. They found that either intervention had positive effects on its own, such as increasing cancer cell death and restricting cellular growth.

Prescribing both simultaneously, however, had a more dramatic effect and killed almost all the cancerous cells. The scientists clarified that they only saw that effect if they contained a certain kind of mutation that’s particularly difficult to treat. Their conclusions could spark new ideas about how to treat cancer with methods that don’t necessarily require chemotherapy.

5. A New T-Cell Could Hold Clues to a Universal Cancer Treatment
Many people talk about how they want a “cure for cancer,” but the reality is not so straightforward. Scientists make progress with certain cancers, but not all of them at once. However, a team at Cardiff University uncovered a T-cell with T-cell receptors (TCR) that could stimulate significant progress toward treating all cancers.

They found that the T-cell recognized and killed most human cancers without affecting healthy cells. Lab tests showed that the T-cells destroyed cancerous cells associated with the skin, ovaries, lungs, blood, bones and other parts of the body. Those results indicate why scientists are so hopeful about what the future may hold.

Meaningful Developments in Cancer Treatments to Watch
Many of these new cancer treatments are in the early stages. Even so, they represent advancements that could prove life-saving and life-changing for cancer patients and their loved ones.