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One size doesn’t fit all
That is not to say treatment has been bad; medicine has advanced at an amazing rate. It’s just not been as precise or tailored as it could be.
Now, doctors are starting to use treatments which are unique to individuals and deliver far more precision. This means better results, fewer side effects and increased cost-effectiveness.
What are these new treatments, and how are they helping?
In the past, individual variations were invisible to us, but today, new technology can analyse each person’s genome. Known as “precision medicine”, the tech gives doctors the ability to tailor treatments, as well as prevention strategies, to the unique characteristics of each person.
The benefits are already being seen. Cancer, which accounts for 20% of deaths in Europe, is one of the diseases where a lot of research into precision medicine is being focused. With this new knowledge, doctors are starting to move from a broad-brush approach – using radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy to wipe out cancer, and healthy cells in the process – to a more targeted technique.
Trials have begun into predicting an individual’s risk of developing cancer by analysing genes known to be linked to cancer. A recent study using MRIs of people judged at high risk of cancer because of an inherited mutation in a cancer-causing gene showed 7% already had tumours that weren’t yet causing symptoms.
Proton beam therapy
One of the cancer fighting techniques using a high level of precision is proton beam therapy, an advanced type of cancer radiotherapy. Protons, extracted from hydrogen atoms or carbon ions, are accelerated up to 70% of the speed of light before being released directly on the tumour. As the bulk of the energy is targeted at one specific, concentrated area, the radiation dose to surrounding healthy tissue is minimised.
Proton therapy is non-invasive, and the actual beam of protons is only delivered for several minutes per session. Patients don’t experience pain during treatment and the procedure has very few side effects compared to that of traditional radiotherapy.