To mark World Cancer Day, we asked everyone at Oxford PharmaGenesis for their burning questions about cancer. We then asked our Oncology team to give their views on the most frequently asked questions – here is what they said.
How many of us will get cancer? What are the most common types? What should we do with this knowledge?
At the end of last year, Macmillan reported that approximately 1000 diagnoses of cancer were made per day in the UK alone; by the end of the decade almost half of the UK population will get cancer at some point in their lives. However, cancer survival is improving. Although survival rates differ between cancer types, in general patients who are diagnosed with cancer are expected to live for longer than before, thanks to the amazing research happening right now throughout the world.
In Europe, the most common types of cancer are those affecting the breast, prostate or bowel. Early diagnosis of cancer increases the chances of successful treatment, so it’s really important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of different cancer types and to seek advice from your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.
Fortunately, there are national screening programmes in place in the UK for many of the most common cancer types, such as cancers of the cervix, breast and bowel. If you are invited to a screening appointment, you should go!
What are the most exciting recent developments in oncology?
As well as the fact that a multitude of new drugs for cancer are in the pipeline, it is now possible to screen for genetic mutations that can cause tumours. The identification of specific subtypes of cancer according to their genetic mutations has led to the development of targeted treatments and the introduction of personalized medicine.
In the past couple of years, there have also been numerous exciting breakthroughs in immuno-oncology. Immuno-oncology harnesses the body’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
Targeted therapies and immuno-oncology drugs can home in on cancerous cells; this is in contrast to chemotherapy, which can affect both healthy cells and tumour cells. At the moment, many patients with cancer will still need chemotherapy at some stage during the course of their disease, and supportive care has improved considerably in recent years. Medicines have been developed to help patients deal with some of the common side effects of chemotherapy, such as vomiting and low levels of immune cells, which means that more patients receive the maximum benefit from existing treatments.
Recent breakthroughs in cancer research also mean that we now have a vaccine that can help prevent cancers related to the human papilloma virus.
Will there ever be a cure for cancer?
Cancer is not one single disease – there are many different types of cancer, which are defined by the cells that they originate from and the way in which they grow. Some cancers are more easily treated than others. While some treatments may be effective for multiple cancer types, sometimes the most promising treatments are those that are targeted to a particular tumour type. Therefore, we may find that we discover a cure for some cancers before others.
It is really promising to note that our knowledge and understanding of the underlying causes and the biology of different cancer types are continuously expanding. This is thanks to the collaborative efforts of scientists, pharmaceutical companies, charities and patient groups. Importantly, scientific research is providing plenty of new avenues for drug development. As the range of treatment options expands, newer and more effective therapies will hopefully become accessible to patients.
The good news is that many cancers can be cured these days. For example, skin cancer may be cured with surgery, if found early enough. Even in cancers for which we do not yet have a cure, tumour growth can often be slowed down to the extent that the disease can be regarded as a chronic condition. Now that more people are living with cancer and surviving after cancer for longer than ever before, it will be vital to increase our understanding of how best to support the physical, mental, social and economic needs of those affected by this disease.