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Cancer. The very mention of the word fills many with dread for good reason — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer comes in second place only to heart disease in causing the most deaths. Many existing treatment regimens produce difficult-to-manage side effects, so researchers have worked diligently to find new treatments for cancer that will prove more effective.

They also continually seek regimens that cause the least pain and discomfort for patients. While a cure has yet to be found, several new treatments show promise in effectively treating the disease while minimizing side effects.

1. Preventing Cancer Through Vaccines

Preventing cancer through vaccines

Today, certain vaccines can prevent certain forms of cancer before they even develop. One such vaccine, Gardasil 9, prevents cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus causes genital warts and can develop into cervical, vaginal or oral cancer.

Because the vaccine only works before an individual gets exposed to the virus, the best time to get it is before becoming sexually active. Currently, the vaccine has been deemed safe for women aged 9-45. Because it is new, doctors do not yet know how long the protection will last, but they have followed treated individuals for nine years who did not contract the virus.

A vaccine also exists to protect people from hepatitis A, and B. Hepatitis affects the liver, and if left untreated, can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Currently, no vaccine exists against hepatitis C. However, researchers are performing clinical studies on two potential vaccines against this form of the virus.

2. Better Immunotherapy Medications

immunotherapy cancer treatment
Patient Robert Thistle travels to UCSF to receive immunotherapy infusions. Photo by Barbara Ries

Immunotherapy works by boosting the body’s immune response and prompts it to fight cancerous cells. Also called biologic therapy, several forms of immunotherapy for cancer exist:

  • monoclonal antibodies
  • oncolytic virus therapy
  • T-cell therapy and nonspecific immunotherapy.

Some immunotherapy treatments put checkpoints on the immune pathway. Cancerous cells use this pathway to spread to other parts of the body, and this therapy stops them in their tracks.

Other immunotherapy treatments get the body to fight cancerous cells by using modified viruses that attach to them, making the immune system attack it. Interferons also prompt the body’s immune system to destroy cancerous cells.

Some of these treatments cause side effects, including flu-like symptoms, thinning hair and severe fatigue. Those getting injections may also experience pain at the site.

3. Targeted Radiation Techniques

radiation treatment

Earlier radiation therapies nearly always caused distressing side effects like hair loss. Targeted radiation therapies aim to destroy cancer while protecting the surrounding healthy cells from damage, which helps minimize the unpleasantness.

Doctors can use targeted radiation alone to destroy certain tumors in their initial stages before growth gets out of hand. Physicians also use radiation as a complementary therapy to surgical removal of the tumor to ensure no cancerous cells remain.

4. Nanotechnology

nanotechnology

Nanotechnology uses nanoparticles to deliver medicines and lasers directly into tumors. Because these particles are so tiny, they can enter the cancer cells and destroy them from the inside.

While research on nanotechnology remains in its infancy, the process shows tremendous promise in fighting cancer without the usual side effects. This treatment can also manipulate genes to eradicate inherited propensities for certain types of cancer.

5. Microbial Therapy

Microbial Therapy

Microbial therapy uses bacteria to fight off cancer. Infectious bacteria stimulate the immune system, which then fights to shrink cancerous growth. Microbial treatment was developed way back in the 18th century, but relatively little research exists to explain how this technique works.

Some bacteria can attack and overcome cancerous cells by entering tumors and starving them of what they need to grow. The bacteria that causes salmonella shows promise in depriving tumors of the nutrients they need, sometimes eliminating it altogether. This type of treatment causes side effects, but researchers hope to modify the genetic code of the bacteria slightly to minimize the severity.

Hope for the Future

While a definitive cure for cancer has yet to be found, new technologies show promise in improving treatment outcomes. Hopefully, in the near future, surviving cancer without suffering painful side effects will become a reality.