Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cancer Treatment Options Are Changing. . .

Why are there fewer cancer patients receiving IV chemotherapy at the Polson Oncology Clinic? Today cancer treatment looks different everywhere than it did just two years ago. In the early 20th century cancer was treated by surgically removing a small localized tumor. Radiation was added to control small tumors that could not be surgically removed. Then during World War II chemical warfare research found chemical agents that killed rapidly growing cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Chemotherapy (chemo) was born. The first metastatic cancer was cured in 1956 when methotrexate was used to treat a rare tumor. Research through the past 70 years has refined and greatly improved drug therapy.

Chemo is given in a pill, liquid, shots and most often put into the blood intervenously (IV). Researchers found that combinations of drugs is often times more effective.

Currently doctors are prescribing more oral chemo drugs, drugs taken by mouth, to treat some cancers. The positives: patients can control their treatment from home without needing to travel to a treatment center except for diagnostic work and doctor exams.  Chemo taken by mouth is as strong as other forms of chemo and works just as well. Some drugs are never taken by mouth because the stomach cannot absorb them Others may cause harm when swallowed.

The major positive of oral chemo can be the major negative when the patient/caregiver are in control of treatment and do not follow protocols.  Another negative is the high cost of oral chemo drugs. Many times patients pay more out-of-pocket for oral than IV drugs.

Patients with cancers that are treated more effectively with oral drugs, and have little or no insurance coverage for the expensive oral chemo drug, can get assistance from the drug manufacturers. Patients can talk with their doctor for help in contacting the drug manufacturers.

Genetic research and immunology, the study of the immune system and how it can be used to control cancer,  will add and improve future treatment options. The oncology clinic landscape will mirror those changes.

by Valerie Lindstrom

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