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CAN-Sirs Corner

by Pete Davignon

reprinted with permission from Senior Softball News

Medicine Advances in Cancer Detection

Fall 2017 Edition

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has approved a cancer treatment that uses a patient's own genetically modified cells to attack a type of leukemia. This opens the door to a new frontier in medicine and clears the way for medical researchers to apply a new approach to fighting cancer by harnessing the body's immune system.

A process known as CART T-cell therapy is used in children or young adults fighting an often-fatal recurrence of the most common childhood cancer--B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Most of the time it is treated successfully with chemotherapy, radiation, or by transplant of bone marrow which produces blood cells. When these treatments fail to beat back the cancer, the odds of survival fall to 1 in 10.

The new treatment is a one-time infusion developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the pharmaceutical company Novartis. Officially known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CART T-cell), it starts with doctors extracting disease-fighting white blood cells, known as T-cells, from a patient's blood. The cells are frozen and shipped to a laboratory where they are genetically engineered to attack a specific protein on the cancerous B-cells.  

They're then put back into the body where they seek out and destroy cancer cells. And because the cells were taken from the patient's own body there is no need for anti-rejection drugs which are needed after transplants.

It is currently limited to the one children's leukemia but that platform potentially can be used to benefit many cancer patients and treat a lot of different types of cancers, particularly blood cancer patients.

Warning Signs of Cancer

A recent smart phone app that can screen for pancreatic cancer works by having a person take a selfie to detect signs of jaundice in their eyes. Pancreatic cancer has one of the worst outcomes. The survival rate is 9 percent in part because there are no telltale symptoms to catch a tumor before it spreads. The problem with pancreatic cancer is that by the time symptoms appear it is frequently too late.

Other warning signs may be far less obvious. Doctors do not have a screening test for all cancers so it is important to know the potential warning signs. Talk with your health care provider if you experience symptoms during a three-month period. The most common -- changes in a mole -- is a sign of skin cancer. Other symptoms to be aware of are:

  • a chronic cough

  • sore throat or trouble swallowing

  • headache, backache or another pain that will not go away

  • fever and fatigue

  • rapid weight loss

  • changes in bowel movement

  • unusual bleeding

Some of these can be warning signs of cancer. People who recognize them are more likely to seek care improving their chances against the disease.

With all the information about awareness and prevention of cancer, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and regular check-ups with your doctor are still the cornerstones of mot health recommendations.

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