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By Susan J. White
With so many new treatment options for cancer patients, it’s an exciting time for oncology clinicians who have a growing arsenal of approaches to fight the disease and help patients achieve better outcomes.
“There are new treatments being approved and different trials opening very frequently,” said Endeavor Health oncologist Andrew Wiele, DO. “Cancer care is improving at a rapid pace, as technology has helped define better targets and molecular markers to bring new therapeutics and incredible advances.”
“The new discoveries in recent years have effectively allowed us to change the one size fits all approach to treatment to a more patient-centered approach,” said Endeavor Health oncologist Poornima Saha, MD. “We are diagnosing more cancers at earlier stages, and offering effective treatments for tumors that historically were difficult to treat.”
Innovations for the new year
We asked our oncology experts to highlight some of the innovations they are most looking forward to in the new year:
Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is one of the advances Dr. Wiele is excited about, as this non-invasive diagnostic tool helps detect minimal residual disease in patients undergoing cancer treatments.
“Fragments of cancer cell DNA can be identified in blood samples, providing a more sensitive and specific detection of cancer than traditional imaging like MRI or CT scans,” explained Dr. Wiele.
There are many ongoing clinical trials using ctDNA as a predictive and/or prognostic tool to help determine the best personalized treatment for patients, for example, CIRCULATE-US is a trial open throughout the Endeavor Health system using ctDNA results in patients with resected high-risk stage II and stage III colon cancer.
“We are learning that the ctDNA results may indicate whether a patient can be sufficiently treated with surgery alone or should undergo both surgery and chemotherapy for the best long-term outcomes. The advanced technology can also be used for post-treatment surveillance and may lead to earlier detections of recurrence,” he said.
Continued advances in immunotherapy, such as CAR-T cell therapy, bi-specific T-cell engagers, and personalized vaccines are other areas of innovation Dr. Wiele and his colleagues are interested in.
“It’s very gratifying caring for patients and being able to offer them more hope and better outcomes as we continue learning how to harness our own body’s immune system to attack cancer,” said Dr. Wiele.
Dr. Saha, who specializes in breast cancer, also highlighted immunotherapy as a game changer for patients. “Immunotherapy has significantly impacted how we treat triple negative breast cancer. We have new agents and new ways to treat metastatic disease,” she said.
Innovations and improvements in health care equity, access and inclusion are also vitally important, said Dr. Saha.
“Cancer does not discriminate, and we need to continue to improve access to all the advances. There’s lots of data showing that people are being diagnosed at younger ages for breast, colon and other cancers and I hope the growing focus on improving access will continue,” she added.
Artificial intelligence and related technology to help with cancer screening and predicting response to specific treatment is another area of great promise and something that wasn’t even on many physicians’ radars until the last few years, said Dr. Saha. “Artificial intelligence can help increase our capabilities to detect cancer sooner and to deliver more tailored therapies,” she added.
“It is a very exciting time in oncology,” said Dr. Saha. “We have more people living longer and living with cancer and we’re studying survivorship and ways to make sure that treatments are effective, but also tolerable.”
Learn more about cancer services at Endeavor Health Cancer Institute.
NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.