The state of cancer: Are we close to a cure?

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Cancer is the leading cause of death across the globe. For years now, researchers have led meticulous studies focused on how to stop this deadly disease in its tracks. How close are we to finding more effective treatments? The World Health Organization (WHO) note that, worldwide, nearly 1 in 6 deaths are down to cancer.
In the United States alone, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer-related deaths in 2017. Currently, the most common types of cancer treatment are chemotherapy, radiotherapy, tumor surgery, and — in the case prostate cancer and breast cancer — hormonal therapy.
However, other types of treatment are beginning to pick up steam: therapies that — on their own or in combination with other treatments — are meant to help defeat cancer more efficiently and, ideally, have fewer side effects. Innovations in cancer treatment aim to address a set of issues that will typically face healthcare providers and patients, including aggressive treatment accompanied by unwanted side effects, tumor recurrence after treatment, surgery, or both, and aggressive cancers that are resilient to widely utilized treatments.
Below, we review some of the most recent cancer research breakthroughs that give us renewed hope that better therapies and prevention strategies will soon follow suit.
One type of therapy that has attracted a lot of attention recently is immunotherapy, which aims to reinforce our own bodies’ existing arsenal against foreign bodies and harmful cells: our immune system’s response to the spread of cancer tumors. But many types of cancer cell are so dangerous because they have ways of “duping” the immune system — either into ignoring them altogether or else into giving them a “helping hand.”
However, thanks to in vitro and in vivo experiments, researchers are now learning how they might be able to “deactivate” the cancer cells’ protective systems.
A study published last year in Nature Immunology found that macrophages, or white blood cells, that are normally tasked with “eating up” cellular debris and other harmful foreign “objects” failed to obliterate the super-aggressive cancer cells. That was because, in their interaction with the cancer cells, the macrophages read not one but two signals meant to repel their “cleansing” action.
This knowledge, however, also showed the scientists the way forward: by blocking the two relevant signaling pathways, they re-enabled the white blood cells to do their work.
A surprising weapon in the fight against cancer could be therapeutic viruses, as revealed by a team from the United Kingdom earlier this year. In their experiments, they managed to use a reovirus to attack brain cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

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