New Advancements in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Written by Viva Voong '26
Edited by Owen Wogmon '23
Oncology has always been a field filled with many unknowns. Cancer diagnoses are frightening for patients and family members alike, who can only look to the future with apprehension. In the past, cancer patients had to resort to surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, all of which can be invasive and harmful in the long term. However, technologies developed in recent years have allowed researchers to create more effective treatments that are minimally invasive, targeting only specific, cancer-causing cells. and have the potential to save more lives. These include biotechnological advancements such as immunotherapy, CAR T-cell therapy, and CRISPR, among others. Here, we’ll review the recent cancer therapy developments, including refined surgical oncology, artificial intelligence, immunotherapy, enzymatic inhibitors, and liquid and synthetic biopsies.
Refining Surgical Oncology
It is important to limit the invasiveness of a procedure because it affects the length, risk and recovery of the surgery. Recently, researchers have developed methods to precisely perform surgery on cancer patients. One advancement is Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery, in which a small camera is inserted into the patient’s chest to allow surgeons to clearly visualize the area of incision. This increases the precision of cuts and allows surgeons to limit the size of incisions. In addition, MinION Genetic Sequencing can use ionic currents generated by differences in DNA to detect cancer cells during surgery. This can aid in accurately determining which groups of cells to remove, minimizing the invasiveness of the procedure .
Robotic surgery is also a new advancement being used to refine surgical processes. In this method, surgeons control a robotic arm to carry out the given procedure, which has proven more accurate and dexterous, accessing body areas that a surgeon may have difficulty reaching manually. Robotic surgery also reduces blood post and post-surgical discomfort .
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI can identify patterns that the human eye can’t see. This can help in more accurate cancer screening through genetic sequencing. Earlier cancer diagnosis through the use of AI can improve patients’ survival rate through earlier intervention. AI can also improve cancer treatments by regulating the use of medications and predicting their tolerance. Considering this, AI has the potential to advance cancer therapy in aspects that we didn’t previously know were possible .
Immunotherapy is a cancer therapy that uses the body's immune system to attack cancer cells through the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which . Molecular testing is needed to determine if this type of treatment will work effectively on the patient. Some forms of immunotherapy include antibodies, CAR T-cell therapy and vaccines. These novel treatments will empower the body to use natural immune processes to effectively fight against cancer while minimizing harm to healthy cells .
Researchers have also found ways to use enzymatic inhibitors to treat cancer. Enzyme inhibitors are molecules that bind to enzymes to decrease their activity. For example, kinases are enzymes that control cell signaling and division. Because kinases are involved in a plethora of signaling pathways, inhibiting kinases in cancer cells can stop their division. Many new cancer drugs utilize this function to treat cancer. Another enzyme is poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase or PARP, which regulates cellular metabolism. Drugs inhibiting PARP have been used to effectively treat ovarian cancer, while minimizing symptoms. The inhibition of enzymes can allow for yet another method of treating cancer more precisely .
Liquid and Synthetic Biopsies
Cancer diagnosis is also being made less invasive through the use of liquid and synthetic biopsies . Traditionally, removing a small sample of tissue to test for cancer could require a surgical process. However, researchers have found ways to test molecular biomarkers found in fluids, such as blood, saliva, urine and stool, to detect cancer. Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) is a type of genetic material that is released into the bloodstream after a cell dies. This can reveal patterns in DNA methylation, the process in which chemical groups called methyl groups are added to a DNA molecule. This causes less harm and is more accessible to patients .
Synthetic biopsies add an additional layer of accuracy by using bioengineered DNA to detect cancer cells and create biomarkers on them. This allows accurate cancer detection for all types of cancer. It also localizes detection in small groups of cancer cells, so oncologists can determine if the growth is malignant or benign. Moreover, it reduces the amount of monitoring and wait times for patients who experience abnormal growth but don’t know if it is benign or cancerous .
Scientists have developed many new advancements for cancer care, many of which hold the potential to make profound differences in the field of oncology and change the lives of cancer patients for the better. Many therapies have also been combined to more effectively treat cancer patients. These allow cancer patients to have a range of treatments available to them. It also brings us closer to a time when cancer is easily curable and causes less apprehension and uncertainty.
New advancements in cancer care are a source of hope for cancer patients who are fighting for their lives, as well as their family members who are supporting them from behind, shedding tears of fear all the while. For a long time, cancer has held many unknowns in the medical field, but recent advancements are paving the way for more efficient and life-saving treatments.
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