It’s fair to say that 2017 was a very good year in the field of cancer research, with a great many breakthroughs and developments – and now is as good a time as any to take a look back at what happened over the last year.
Palbociclib and Ribociclib finally approved by the NHS
After haggling over the price, the NHS finally gave 8,000 or so British cancer patients an extra edge in their battle by introducing two new treatments. Palbociclib – a first-line treatment for sufferers of oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer – has been medically proven to slow down the progression of cancer by inhibiting the proteins CDK 4 and 6. Ribociclib works along the same lines, but has been designed for women who have gone through the menopause.
Side-effects appear to be minimal: women who were involved in the trials for both medications reported that slight fatigue was the only negative, and they appear to be very manageable treatments, allowing users to live as high a quality of life as possible. And the British medical community are very keen to see both treatments rolled out, as they slow down the growth of tumours for nearly a year, delaying the need for chemotherapy.
The MammaPrint test: it could prevent unnecessary chemo
A report this summer from the University of California announced the development of a new test for cancer survivors, which can indicate which women are at a low risk for reoccurring cancers, allowing them to avoid unnecessary chemotherapy.
The MammaPrint test looks for up to seventy gene variants in blood and saliva which are known to increase the risk of cancers flaring up again, examining how active certain genes are, how the activity levels of the genes are affecting the behaviour of the cancer, and how likely it is to grow and spread. The result would allow doctors to factor in the age and general health of the patient, as well as the size and grade of the cancer, giving both doctor and patient a better shot at working out a more effective treatment plan.
The DigniCap cooling system
While chemotherapy is still seen by the medical community as the best weapon against cancer, the side-effects are still hard for many to bear – particularly the distress and trauma brought on by chemo-induced alopecia. However, a development approved by America’s Food and Drug Administration in 2017 could help keep hair intact.
The DigniCap Cooling System – a computer-controlled cap which circulates liquid that cools the scalp – is designed to minimise the hair loss brought on by chemo treatment for patients with solid tumours – was tested earlier this year, and studies of women with breast cancer who used the cap while undergoing chemotherapy demonstrated that more than 66% of them reported losing less than half of their hair.
AI used to detect breast cancer
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed a new and highly effective screening system for high-risk breast lesions this summer – using artificial intelligence.
The machine learning system was tested on 335 lesions, looking for patterns among data points including demographics, family history, biopsy results and pathology reports – and it correctly diagnosed 97% of them as malignant, reducing the number of unnecessary surgeries by more than 30%.
Because current cancer diagnostic tools are so inexact, the medical community has become prone to overscreening. And while techniques such as mammograms play a crucial role in detecting cancers, they still throw up a lot of false positives, leading to pointless surgeries.
While the American medical community feels that this is an important development, it may not be so crucial in the UK, as British medical policies are less inclined towards surgery than in the US. But the self-learning capabilities of AI mean that this system is predicted to come on in leaps and bounds in the near future.