Why hope is in our hands for cancer care in 2020

World Cancer Day 2020 should really be called World Cancer Hope Day. That's because the next generation of cancer care is at our door, and that means greater promise than ever before.

At the start of this new decade, we have truly upped our game in translating breakthrough discoveries into life-changing treatments. Major advances are now available in precision medicine, gene-based therapy, immunotherapy and many other vital areas of medicine. And, just last year, the American Cancer Society announced cancer death rates dropped over the last 25 years.

So, there is reason to be optimistic as my colleagues and I at City of Hope predict what is to come in cancer care in 2020:

1. Gene therapy. CAR T-cell therapy, which uses the patient's immune cells to fight cancer, is a technique that has sparked tremendous excitement among physicians, scientists and researchers in recent years. We had cause to celebrate in 2017 when the FDA approved two CAR T-cell products for treating blood cancers, and clinical trials continue for a wide range of solid tumors. But there’s more good news now. Scientists and researchers are currently developing off-the-shelf CAR T treatments from specially treated donor cells that will greatly eliminate the chance of rejection. I believe you'll be hearing more about CAR T-cell therapy this year as more products are up for FDA approval in 2020.

2. No-scalpel, liquid biopsies. Liquid biopsies can now detect tumor DNA just through a simple blood test. We know so much about DNA that these tests are becoming an increasingly accurate way to root out cancer in its early stages. Imagine, one day soon, we will not have to biopsy with a scalpel, but with this minimally invasive lab test. And we can catch cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable.

3. The rise of theranostics. We always hear from cancer patients that they want to be treated for cancer as quickly as possible so they can resume their lives. Therapeutics and diagnostics (theranostics) are making this possible as we can now simultaneously diagnose and treat some forms of cancer. This method of image-guided diagnosis and treatment can be particularly effective for prostate cancer. Our new imaging tools can actually detect — and then treat — microscopic disease that routine scans often miss. We're also predicting theranostics will revolutionize colorectal cancer treatment.

4. New methods of cancer detection and prevention. As I write this summary, even more innovative prevention and early detection is at hand. Patients can now learn their cancer risk factors based on new genetic assessments, biomarker panels and environmental exposure surveys. That means that, in many cases, we can address cancer in the best way possible — by preventing it in the first place.

We still have more to do to beat cancer, and further research is imperative. However, extraordinary scientists and clinicians are speeding the progress of cancer medicine in many directions, and I couldn't be prouder of their work. On this World Cancer Day, we can confidently say hope is in our hands.

Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, is the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology and Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. A clinician-scientist for more than 30 years, Dr. Salgia also leads the physician team at City of Hope Newport Beach (Calif.). 

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