It’s been a big news week in the cancer world, from a potentially game-changing T-cell finding to an investigation into whether acetaminophen should be on California’s Prop 65 list.
Don’t worry, these words aren’t political. No, this writing comes from the childlike wonderment of a middle-aged son, and the hopefulness those touched by cancer cling to and yearn for.
For years Doctors have treated cancer with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Good tools for sure, but to the lay person, the first-timers, those can be akin to using an excavator when a garden spade may be better suited. Or a fire hose when a glass of water would do the trick. After all, in broad terms, that’s what many cancer treatments do. They kill all cells in the affected area in an effort to wipe out the mutated ones.
So, when you’re in 70’s and you’ve been blessed not to have experienced cancer in the first or second person, you and your family may tend to have visions of a full-frontal assault instead of a targeted attack. Honestly and thankfully, you didn’t even know chemo could be a simple injection and a daily pill.
Cancer Management has come a long way. The thoughts my family had when my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma are now a galaxy far, far away.
Today, we live in a world where some cancers can be treated by cleaning one’s own cells and returning them to the patient so they can grow anew. Even cooler — Fighter cells — more scientifically called T-cells. T-cells are harvested from a patient, genetically altered and then sent back into the body to seek and destroy only cancerous cells. This is some big-time sci-fi mojo. Just how incredible is that? If you’re a patient that is eligible for this kind of treatment, hope is no longer a thought in the ether. It’s tangible. It’s a hug. It’s planning a vacation. It’s living for now with an eye on tomorrow.
This is 21st century cancer medicine.
Presently, T-cells are used to treat leukemia and blood cancers. New peer reviewed research published in the Nature Immunology suggests a T-cell modification that could potentially allow for many more, if not all cancers, to be found and destroyed by T-cells.
Active T-cell therapies are limited because the human leukocyte antigen the cell responds to is specific to individuals and their cancers. However, the new research points to T-cells scanning on the MR1 molecule, which does not vary between people, thereby potentially opening up T-cell therapy to a broader range of patients and cancers.
The lab tests performed have demonstrated success killing bone, blood, breast, kidney, prostate and a host of other cancers.
Early on in my mom’s stem cell (bone marrow) transplant I had a conversation with one of her nurses that blew my mind. She described the advancements she’s seen in her career and just how amazing the science is in modern cancer management and treatment. Joanie’s been on the unit for decades. She’s seen the evolution first hand. She walked me through the steps my mother was experiencing and then began to tell me about a patient in a nearby unit that was receiving cell therapy. I thought I was on another planet. Thanks to her own stem cells, in 14 days my mother was going to have new bone marrow, and someone down the hall was receiving a supped up immune cell (T-cell) that would hunt down and attack only the cancerous cells in their body.
Thank you to all those who work and study in Oncology. You are valued.