Whenever you watch movies with characters that are suffering from cancer, they would usually display signs of weakness, distress, and fatigue. Surely, the effects of both the cancer and the treatment are much worse in real life. The irony is not lost in the process of treating the patient. The reason why they are steadily looking and feeling wasted is due to the same medications that are supposed to make them well. A rather sad reminder that, even with all the advancements in technology and revolutionary techniques available today, patients afflicted with the dreaded disease still suffer the debilitating and soul-crushing side-effects of therapeutic killing.
Cancer treatment is leading the charge into territories that were, previously, inaccessible by traditional therapies. But for a long time, the primary goal was to decrease mortality and increase the survival rate. They were so concerned with beating the disease, they forgot to look at the bigger picture. Underneath all of that, an actual person was going through traumatic and disabling changes within their bodies due to the chemicals involved and the modes of administration of the medications.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and accounted for at least 9.6 million deaths in 2018.
It is best to reduce the cancer burden through the modification and avoidance of risk factors, and by exercising proven preventive strategies. However, one of the most overlooked steps is, probably, the most crucial and relevant to how hard the side-effects of the treatment will affect you. Early Detection, which encompasses screening and early diagnosis, helps stop further progression of the cancer and, therefore, reduces the amount of treatment needed to target the malignancy. It helps lessen the side-effects that patients would eventually encounter.
Depending on the degree and frequency of the prescribed treatment/s, the most common side-effects are: (1) Neutropenia, (2) Lymphedema, (3) Hair Loss, (4) Nausea and Vomiting, (5) Chemo Brain, and (6) Pain. Not only are they costly and debilitating, respectively, they also significantly alter the quality of life of patients.
A top priority should be designing cancer treatments with the aim of holistic healing. By considering a patient’s reaction to a drug or concoction of drugs, a pathway is being paved for delivering optimal results during the healing process. The biggest pitfalls of cancer drugs are the, almost, immediate onset of side-effects post administration and the subsequent ones. Examples of these are acute nausea and vomiting or infertility in males, who were treated for childhood cancers. Although there has been a recent breakthrough in creating new stem cells from sperm stem cells (in an animal model) to address the latter, it would be more ideal to prevent infertility issues from the get-go.
One of the best ways to avoid the side-effects brought about by traditional cancer treatments is to customize the therapy according to an individual’s genetic background and level of function, also known as Personalized/Precision Medicine. It might also be beneficial to establish cancer care centers that focus solely on the management of the side-effects brought about by oncolytic drugs on the person, e.g., Reduction of staggering hospital bills due to extended confinement. Better alternatives are increasingly becoming available, although there’s still a long way to go. The social, emotional, and mental well-being of the person afflicted with cancer should be considered throughout the course of the treatment.
Indeed, Cancer is a terrible disease, but we also have to consider how equally (if not more) serious the side-effects are in terms of how it affects the quality of life of patients undergoing prescribed therapies. It all boils down to adopting a holistic approach during the planning stage. Viewing and treating it as a healing process instead of just a battle against a disease, puts a human face on the struggle and makes it more relatable.
Want to explore this trend further? Why not join experts and decision-makers at the Oncology Strategy Meeting 2019 on the 20th of May (Monday) at the Intercontinental San Francisco.
Research Analyst, Proventa International