According to a recent article, being able to detect cancer as soon as possible is vitally important as it allows time to administer curative treatments. Scientists are hopeful new treatments will develop in the upcoming years that will be able to detect cancer earlier.
Early Detection Matters
Being able to detect cancer early has always been a goal of medical professionals. However, since low-dose computed tomography (CT) scanning started being used to detect lung cancer ten years ago, it has not undergone many changes since then.
Andrea Ferris, CEO of research funding organization LUNGevity, also stresses that there is a lack of awareness for screening for cancers. Ferris states that early screening can save lives.
Furthermore, earlier stages of cancer are harder to detect due to a lack of powerful enough tools. When a patient does not have any symptoms, diagnosing cancer requires powerful tools in order to detect and track the disease. No matter the type of cancer, early detection poses a number of challenges.
How Cancers Get Missed
Cancer usually starts deep within the tissues, allowing it to easily evade detection. Initially, a patient will not experience any symptoms. This means they will not seek help, and their cancer will continue to grow. In addition, the initial symptoms of cancers can deceivingly look like non-cancerous diseases. For example, with the rare bone-marrow malignancy AL amyloidosis, the symptoms are non-specific and look like those of kidney or heart failure.
Better Tools Are Needed for Detection
Technology is constantly advancing, and that gives hope for the future of cancer-detecting technological advances. Dana Farber currently has a study called the PROMISE study, and it is using a blood test to look for signs of myeloma. This method, which is more sensitive, hopes to find the risk factors that lead to myeloma and determine what populations are more at risk. If successful, the results of this study could reveal better biomarkers of risk and lead to better therapies for early stages of cancer.
Other detection methods are looking into combining technologies. Recently, the FDA approved a radioactive agent to use with positron emission tomography (PET) imagining in men with prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA)-positive legions. This technology would allow for early disease detection.
Johnson & Johnson’s Lung Cancer Initiative (LCI) collaborates with teams from all over in order to improve the detection methods for lung cancer. They are looking at radiometric applications for chest CT images and analyzing circulating tumor DNA in a patient’s blood. One aspect these researchers are looking into is early lesions and whether or not they are likely to become cancerous.
Other early detection methods in development are ones that will determine a patient’s risk of getting cancer. This could look like a nasal swab that can tell if a person is at a higher risk of a specific cancer, and if they should therefore undergo more diligent screenings.
Biology of the Disease
Scientists are going back to the basics when looking to improve the detection of cancer. This means looking at biomarkers and other early signs in large datasets to understand it from a molecular diagnostics perspective.
For colorectal cancers, scientists are using this biological approach. They are looking for clues of colorectal cancer in the gut microbiome – microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract. These microbiomes can show the exact type of cancer a person might get.
In addition, researchers are looking at patients’ genes. In some cases, such as with bladder cancer, gene mutations for fibroblast growth receptors (FGFR’s) can be seen. These mutations might be detectable in small amounts of tumor DNA in a patient’s bloodstream.
Understanding cancer’s biology, and new tools for diagnosing cancer, are an essential part of the solution for cancer. Andrea Ferris suggests there be an incentive system to encourage people to take preventative measures. These incentives could include reduced healthcare through tax breaks or premiums. This would incentivize people to get tested for cancer, thus reducing the risk of getting cancer or bettering their chances through early treatment.
Improving access is vitally important for cancer diagnostics. One challenge people face is having the time to go to a clinic to get screened. This issue could be rectified through the inclusion of night and weekend hours at clinics to better fit patients’ schedules. Early detection of cancer is extremely important for the curing of cancer, and hopefully, technologies will continue to advance to aid in this fight.
“If we could treat cancers before patients have symptoms, we can think about a world where there is no cancer,” says Mark Wildgust, vice president, global medical affairs, oncology, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson