Each day, I read about the latest changes in cancer treatments. New advances are announced on a regular basis made in the war against this terrible disease.
This research will get a boost from the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan bill which was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 13. The act will provide $6 billion for biomedical research, with nearly $2 billion for cancer research alone. The National Institutes of Health will disperse the money to researchers at universities all over the country, Read more here.
Changes in Cancer Treatments are Happening at breakneck speed*
Liquid biopsies are one of the first changes in cancer treatments that a patient may encounter. They’re a faster, more convenient alternative to standard tissue biopsies. Plasma- and urine-based assays can detect actionable mutations in patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). They are both less costly and less painful. They are also able to detect whether the tumor is growing or shrinking throughout the cancer treatment. Read more here.
Targeted Treatments: Precision Medicine
The ability to detect these mutations has made a tremendous difference in the lives of patients like my husband. His oncologist immediately tested Dan for the EGFR mutation and the results were positive. She prescribed Tarceva, which was considered the premium targeted treatment. Eventually, he grew resistant to the treatment and we turned to others, some traditional and others, more cutting edge.
Last Christmas time, Dan’s doctor prescribed Tagrisso, a treatment which targets this new resistant mutation. It was introduced to the market 3 months ahead of schedule, only 3 weeks before he began taking it as an FDA approved treatment. Dan hasn’t experienced many side effects. This is a sharp contrast to traditional chemotherapy which produces difficult side effects, not only during treatment but can also result in long-term side effects that can greatly impact the quality of a patient’s life.
Immunotherapy is the latest in innovative changes in cancer treatments. It attempts to harness and enhance the patient’s immune system to help it shut down the tumor. There are currently 3 new drugs in the area of immunotherapy. Unfortunately, they don’t work for everyone, they aren’t without side effects, and like other treatments, The cancer will eventually find a way around it and resume its advance against the patient’s life.
Early detection is still the weapon in the fight for life in the face of cancer. It’s why some cancers have higher survival rates than others. It’s why cancers like lung and pancreatic are so lethal. They are difficult to detect until they are advanced. They have little to no noticible signs until it’s too late. This is one of the reasons Advocates are trying to raise awareness of lung cancer, changes in cancer Treatments, and the need for early low dose scans for people who are at risk. This includes people who:
- Are 55-80 years of age
- Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
- Currently, smoke, or have quit within the last 15 years.
With that in mind, it’s also important to know that never-smokers such as my husband are not immune to lung cancer. 10 – 15% of lung cancers occur in non-smokers. 2/3 of the non-smokers who get lung cancer are women, and 20 % of lung cancers in women occur in individuals who have never smoked.
How to Take Advantage of these Improvements.
The cancer world is changing rapidly! Don’t take it for granted that the situation you are in is hopeless just because it would have been hopeless a year ago.
Communicate clearly with your doctor. Changes in cancer treatments are happening at a rate that can be hard to keep up with. Find out what’s available in terms of treatments and programs. Ask about palliative care programs, and hospice if your prognosis is terminal.
Hospice offers so many options for amplifying your quality of life. You can quit the hospice program at any time if a treatment comes out that you would like to try.
Call your insurance company. Many have specific programs to benefit your quality of life. There are people on the other end of the phone who want to connect you to the benefits you need. Your doctor can submit a request for an insurance override If a particular treatment isn’t covered,
Seek out local and online support groups that meet your particular needs. Many times at the support group we participate in, we’ve learned about new opportunities to live a fuller life. We are also able to give others the ideas and knowledge we’ve gained the hard way- by living with cancer.
Pray for researchers to continue to come up with new treatments and options. Doctors can now manage cancer diagnoses that were once a death sentence, as a chronic illness with an emphasis on quality of life. It’s still frightening and serious, but thankfully, changes in cancer treatments continue to make life as a cancer patient more hopeful.
*This post is edited and updated from April 17, 2016.
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. After my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com