2011: A Year in Cancer Breakthroughs: December 24, 2011

Some believe the code to understanding cancer was cracked this year. As research into immunotherapies and targeted therapies gained traction and positive results.

“I think it was very exciting because it’s sort of - is a proof that these targeted therapies for cancers can be affective. Once you know the target and you can design a drug to inhibit that target,” says Dr. Lowell Hart, a hematologist/oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Dr. Lowell Hart has several patients on the experimental drug Xalkori that was recently fast-tracked for approval after it showing significant success in treating a specific type of lung cancer.

“My patients that are on the pills have had very, very nice responses. And these were both women where chemotherapy had stopped working,” says Dr. Hart.

Targeted therapy is in trials for head and neck cancers along with melanoma, breast, colon and lung cancers.

“I tell this to many of my patients, even if we don’t have a cure for them now, we hope to be able to control the growth of the cancer for sometimes months and sometimes many years,” says Dr. Hart.

Immunotherapy is another shining prospect in managing cancer. Dr. Frank Rodriguez is also involved in clinical research.

“Immunotherapy is really using the patient’s own immune system to trigger a favorable response against a tumor.  We’ve been using immunotherapy specifically against lymphoma, and for some breast cancers also,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez, a medical oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Using these alternatives to traditional chemotherapy have added benefits.

“We’re used to seeing patients that have a lot of side effects including fatigue. And now we have, little by little, our armamentarium grows, so we start to find that there are new drugs that are just as effective and in some cases more effective than our traditional therapies that come at a significant reduced cost in terms of side effects,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

As we prepare for a new year, it may bring new hope to those suffering from cancer.