Prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer remain among the most common diseases in men while breast cancer, maternal mortality, and Alzheimer’s disease are quite common in women. Researchers and scientists continue to develop and test new treatments for these fatal conditions. Here’s a look at some major developments in these areas.
Safer radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is a common and highly effective treatment option for prostate cancer. However, it can unintentionally injure surrounding healthy tissues resulting in a range of bowel, urinary, and sexual function disorders.
SpaceOAR Hydrogel is an innovative new treatment for men undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer that acts as a spacer, providing space between the rectum and prostate. This reduces the chances that the rectum is exposed to harmful radiation, explains Steven E. Finkelstein, MD, director, Advanced Urology Institute/Bay Regional Cancer Center, Panama City, Florida.
Before starting radiation treatment, the physician injects the hydrogel between the prostate and rectum. The material quickly solidifies into a soft gel that expands in the space, creating a barrier, Finkelstein explains. The hydrogel remains in this space until radiation therapy is completed and then the body eliminates it.
SpaceOAR is the first and only prostate cancer spacing device to receive FDA clearance. It received approval in April 2015. Clinical data has highlighted the long-term bowel and sexual quality of life benefits in men receiving SpaceOAR. Results from three and five-year post treatment studies support the use of SpaceOAR during radiotherapy for prostate cancer.
Michigan Institute of Urology in Detroit, Michigan, offers a radiopharmaceutical treatment called Xofigo, which can help extend life by more than 30% in men whose prostate cancer no longer responds to medical or surgical treatment, and has spread to the bone with symptoms but not to other parts of the body. “Xofigo gives off a strong energy that is deadly to cancer cells in the bones, but does limited damage to nearby healthy cells,” says Kenneth Kernen, MD, partner, urologist, and director of research. Patients receive one injection every four weeks, six injections total.
As a radiopharmaceutical, when it is injected into the vein it is radioactive. It goes to areas in the bone where prostate cancer has spread and attacks those cells, Kernen says.
In the past few years, Eyal Meiri, MD, interim chief of medical oncology, medical oncologist, Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta, reports more use of immunotherapy in individuals with colorectal cancer. Immunotherapy refers to treatment of cancer using the body's immune system to identify and attack cancer cells. One type of immunotherapy involves using innovative medications called checkpoint inhibitors.
Cancer cells have developed a mechanism to fool the immune system from recognizing them as foreign. Checkpoint inhibitors release immune T-cells to recognize and attack cancer cells, Meiri says.
In 2017, the FDA approved two checkpoint inhibitors, pembrolizumab and nivolumab for eligible patients. More than 80% of patients benefited from the therapy in one trial of patients with MSI-H colorectal cancer, says Meiri.
“These treatments hold promise due to their low toxicity and long-lasting benefits,” Meiri says. The lack of nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and many other side effects of chemotherapy make this treatment option attractive.
TransAnal minimally invasive surgery (TAMIS)
This newer approach to remove rectal tumors and polyps, is a safe, effective, and valid option for select patients with early stage rectal cancers and pre-cancerous growths of the rectum, according to a recently released study. TAMIS, developed in 2009 by Sam Atallah, MD, director, colorectal surgery, Oviedo Medical Center in Oviedo, Florida., and two other surgeons, allows surgeons to perform surgery through a natural orifice without any scars and with minimal or no pain afterward.
TAMIS uses laparoscopic equipment, high-definition cameras, and a specialized insufflation system. The recent study published in the Annals of Surgery monitored 200 cases over a six-year period and found that the procedure helped patients maintain organ preservation.