Written by: Ann P Sorgent RN, BSN, Clinical Supervisor – Agnesian Cancer Center
This was the title of an article in the July 29, 2013 issue of TIME magazine, and it provides some interesting thoughts. Traditionally, cancer patients have been treated with strong medications that were selected for their ability to kill fast-growing cells. Unfortunately, these medications did not differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells, so many of the side effects of early cancer therapy were related to the toxicity of the treatment.
Research and development in the 21st century has become much more methodical in its approach to the treatment of cancer. Many of the newer medications are considered “targeted” therapies, and affect specific cancer cell types by thwarting specific pathways that the cancer cells need to survive. For example, these new drugs may prevent nutrients from being absorbed by the tumor, or they may block the development of blood supply to the tumor. In addition, because many of these new therapies do not need to be given through an Intravenous infusion, some of the newer medications are available in pill form. Cancer cells have the frustrating ability to mutate in an effort to resist these targeted drugs, so a patient may need to switch medications according to the progress of their cancer. Multiple medications are being developed which affect cancer cells in a variety of ways. Of course, a board-certified Medical Oncologist will be the healthcare provider in the position of helping the patient through this maze.