New advancements in cancer treatment have some medical experts predicting the end of chemotherapy...someday. "I think it's a very exciting novel concept, we are certainly moving away from chemotherapy and trying to go towards targeted treatment," says Dr. Priya Ramshesh from Houston's Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Her reaction comes to recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine that show the anti-cancer drug Gleevec led to an 83% survival rate for leukemia patients who were treated for two years.
Gleevec and similar drugs introduced in the past two decades work differently than traditional chemotherapy by targeting specific types of cancer and cancer cells. "There is a signal that you're able to target," says Dr. Ramshesh. "It's targeted treatment instead of chemotherapy, which causes a lot of damage to normal cells as well." While these advancements are encouraging, doctors say traditional chemo is still the best option for treating some larger forms of cancer like prostate, breast and lung. "I think we are a long way off from saying that we're at the end of chemotherapy altogether," says Dr. Ramshesh.
Other cancer experts generally agree with that "cautious optimism" assessment when it comes to these new treatments. "The cancer tends to respond better to these treatments and in many cases the cancer can be put into remission," says Dr. Scott Kopetz from Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center. But he adds that advancements in cancer treatment go beyond new drugs. "It's also our better understanding of cancer, what makes individual cancer cells tick, why do certain cancers behave in certain ways." Between better drugs, better treatments and better overall knowledge, the tide appears to be turning in the war on cancer. A recent CNN story reported overall cancer deaths in the U.S. are down by about 20% over the past two decades.