Most cancer is still treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. While these often do the job, doctors can’t always predict who will respond. And because chemo and radiation kill healthy cells, too, they can have debilitating side effects. But as scientists decode the DNA of tumors, they’re able to target cancer more precisely. Here’s the scoop on the latest treatments.
They take aim at the source of cancer
The new drugs are directed at specific genetic glitches that “drive” a person’s cancer. (It’s more of a laser-guided missile than an atomic bomb.) This allows doctors to target mutations in tumors rather than just in the organ of origin (breast or lung, for example).
Cancer can be something you live with.
Although the drugs can produce quick, dramatic responses, they aren’t necessarily cures. That’s because the cancer, wily and adaptable, may eventually find another way to grow, and a new drug will have to be deployed, explains James Gulley, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute’s Medical Oncology Service. Still, these drugs can be used to hold off cancer for months, even years. When it comes to someone you love, any extra time matters.