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Cancer Hope for the Future: July 15, 2011

New drug therapies may not provide a cure for cancer yet but they do offer hope to patients suffering from the disease.

“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. Lowell Hart hematologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Dr. Hart is conducting local clinical trials looking for drugs that target the growth of various cancers. Much excitement surrounds ‘personalized therapies’.

“Trying to look ahead of time at the patient’s cancer and try to figure out before they go on the drugs if this particular pathway or another pathway is controlling the growth of the cancer so you can kind of hone in on the Achilles’ heel,” says Dr. Hart.

Immunotherapy is another promising treatment. It uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

“When you choose the right patient and you give them these drugs you can have phenomenal responses.  You can put patients in remission and in many cases you can maintain that remission because now you’re really using the patient’s own immune system to control the disease,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Immunotherapy drugs are approved for breast, prostate and melanoma cancers. Their results are promising.

“The body always recognizes cancer cells, however, once a tumor gets beyond a certain point, it finds the way to escape the immune system. These drugs, what they do is basically unmask those tumors, they allow the immune system to find these tumors and to attack it,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Targeted growth therapies are being tested for head and neck cancers along with melanoma, breast, colon and lung cancers.

“That’s where the field is moving and over the next decade I’m sure we will get closer and closer to being able to do that for every patient,” says Dr. Hart.

Still in their infancy, these drug therapies may someday be the heavy weight in the fight against cancer.