In today\’s world we know more about cancer than we’ve ever known before. The more we know, the more progress we can make in reducing risk factors by increasing prevention and improving cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. Technology will play the biggest part in medicine in the coming years, where treatments and technology will have a symbiotic relationship. It can only be hoped that this symbiosis will contribute to closing the cancer care gap.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease which occurs when changes in normal cells within a body lead to uncontrolled abnormal growth, forming a lump called a tumour that can be benign or malignant. Various treatment methods are used to treat this disease, such as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy. All of these treatments have evolved and improved over time, yet not one is perfect. Further, because cancer treatment has been a focus in developed countries, many third world countries struggle to get adequate treatment, diagnosis and even information on the chronic disease. Healthcare inequalities remain “third world problems” of “third world countries”, as patients in developing countries continue to suffer from the lack of care in their fight against cancer.
Why is cancer research important?
Cancer remains the leading cause of death in the world, accounting for more than 10 million deaths in 2020. The incidence of cancer tends to be higher in men than in women according to statistics released by the WHO in 2020. 9.3 million cases were in men with a comparatively low 8.8 million cases in women. The most common cancers are breast and lung cancers. The good news is, there has been a steady decline in cancer death rates since 1991. The is credited to fewer people smoking, but also to advances in early detection methods and treatment in some cancers. The sharpest decline in cancer patients has been in the past two years. These figures are largely attributed to the pandemic.
Remission, recurrence and early detection
In the fight against cancer, recurrence is every patient\’s worst fear. Even though remission is not a cure, it gives cancer patients hope that they are winning the fight when the signs and symptoms of the cancer remain undetectable. World Cancer Day hopes to increase knowledge around early detection as it is one of the major factors in beating the disease and achieving remission (the reduction or disappearance of the signs and symptoms of a disease).
Closing the Cancer Care Gap
“Closing the Care Gap” is in its second year of a 3-year plan to bring care to cancer patients. The aim of the movement is to allocate health care and health provisions to all who need it. This includes treatment, care and rehabilitation. “The existing gap in access to optimal cancer treatment and care is a brutal reality in many countries and one that costs the lives of many patients. And, one life lost to inequalities in cancer care is quite frankly one too many,” says Joseph Tabernac, Director of Vall D’hebron Institute of Oncology.
What about a vaccine?
Cancer research has played a significant role in laying the groundwork for vaccines. For over a decade, researchers have done extensive trial tests and clinical research on messenger RNA, which teaches our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response in our bodies. Immunotherapy and mRNA cancer vaccines share a synergy. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around mRNA right now,” said Patrick Ott M.D., PhD.
The vaccine currently in development is a type of treatment known as a personalised cancer vaccine. Using various technologies, these mRNA vaccines are manufactured for individuals based on the specific molecular features of their tumour.
The corona pandemic has shone a spotlight on messenger RNA and the recent outstanding success of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 could help accelerate research on using mRNA vaccine technology to treat cancer. With this, alongside advances in radiotherapy, isotope therapy and chemotherapy, the future is hopeful for cancer patients. The old saying seems to be true: Cancer CAN be beaten!