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Immunotherapy Drug Is Providing Exciting Results in the Treatment of Lung Cancers

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Alex was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. A non-smoking, healthy man, who exercises regularly and eats relatively well is not who most people think of when they think of lung cancer.  However, people exactly like Alex are the new faces of lung cancer diagnoses. Alex is also one of a select few who qualified for a new targeted therapy drug recently approved by the FDA.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally, causing 1.7 million deaths a year. In the United States, it is expected to kill more than 154,000 people in 2018, but recent studies are producing credible progress in finding new drugs that, when combined with more traditional chemotherapy, are greatly improving the survival rates among lung cancer patients. The findings are dramatically changing the way physicians are treating lung cancers. “What it suggests is that chemotherapy alone is no longer a standard of care,” said Dr. Leena Gandhi, a leader of the study and director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University Langone Health.

So far, four drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which unleash the patient’s own immune system to kill malignant cells, have been approved by the FDA. “I’ve been treating lung cancer for 25 years now, and I’ve never seen such a big paradigm shift as we’re seeing with immunotherapy,” said Dr. Roy Herbst, Chief of Medical Oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.

In the trial, patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received the drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) plus chemotherapy had improved overall survival and progression-free survival compared with just chemotherapy alone.  The results from the KEYNOTE-189 clinical trial were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago on April 16 and published concurrently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

One of the main factors in the high rate of death due to lung cancer is that the disease is most often undetected until it has spread to other organs of the body. Lung cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer in men and women and the top cancer killer among both sexes. In addition to the encouraging results from immunotherapy drugs, a newly discovered protein is showing promising results in detecting lung cancer earlier, providing new advanced treatment options to patients at the earliest stages of the disease. “The use of CKAP4 as a biomarker could change current practices regarding the treatment of lung cancer patients, and the diagnostic accuracies may be markedly improved by the combination of CKAP4 and conventional markers,” says Yuichi Sato, Division of Molecular Diagnostics, Kitasato University.

While the news of earlier discovery and new treatment options is very good, reducing risk factors for the disease remains the best approach to avoiding cancer. Exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Smoking marijuana and using electronic cigarettes may also increase the risk of lung cancer, but the actual risk is unknown. People who work with asbestos in a job such as shipbuilding, asbestos mining, insulation, or automotive brake repair and who smoke have a higher risk of developing cancer of the lungs. Exposure to radon has been associated with an increased risk of some types of cancer, including lung cancer. Having your home tested for the presence of Radon is a good and economical method for reducing the risk. Some people also have a genetic predisposition for lung cancer. People with parents, brothers, or sisters with lung cancer could have a higher risk of developing the cancer themselves.

Understanding cancer and how to treat it is constantly evolving toward the day when a cure is discovered. The cure is not here yet, but treatment options have greatly improved in recent decades. The treatments and methods used in clinical trials are promising in every environment in which they are tested. For more information on advancements in cancer detection and treatment, visit https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/.

What is Your Cancer Stage and Why is it Important to Know?

 

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One of the many new terms that patients hear when receiving a cancer diagnosis is “stage”. Along with a long list of other medical terminology used by caregivers to describe cancer, the stage of cancer is used to describe the level at which the cancer has progressed. The stage of cancer will determine where the disease is located, if or where it has spread, what other parts of the body it may have affected, and the patient’s estimated survivable rate. The stage is the most credible indication of the cancer’s progression at a given period of time and is determined by patient procedures and tests such as physical examinations, imaging scans, biopsies, blood tests, surgery or other genetic testing. Even though this is extremely important information, nearly half of the patients diagnosed with cancer in the past two years are unaware of their disease’s stage.

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) recently released the latest edition of its cancer staging manual with new and updated staging for many types of cancer. Most cancer treatment centers started using the updated manual on January 1, 2018.

The specific stage of cancer can be determined by tests conducted prior to diagnosis or after a surgery has been performed. It can provide answers to questions concerning the size of the primary tumor, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and if the cancer is more or less likely to spread. The cancer’s stage will help determine the specific course of treatments, establish the likelihood of recovery, the estimated time to recovery and permit the patient to develop a roadmap for the challenges that lie ahead.

Most types of cancer have four stages:

  • Stage 0 is the stage that best describes cancer that is still located in the place it started and has not spread to nearby tissues. This stage of cancer is often highly curable, usually by removing the entire tumor with surgery.
  • Stage I cancer is usually a small cancer or tumor that has not grown deeply into nearby tissues. It also has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and is often referred to as early-stage cancer.
  • Stage II and Stage III refers to larger tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissue and those that may have spread to the lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV indicates that a cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body and is sometimes called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Understanding your cancer stage will provide critical insight on your future treatment options, the time and direction of recovery and ultimately your likelihood for survival. It is important to be informed about all aspects of your disease so that you can be an active and well-informed participant in your own care.

Early Detection and Treatment May Prevent Cervical Cancer

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Each year, an estimated 12,820 women in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cervical cancer. Approximately 4,200 women die from the disease each year, and more than a quarter of a million women will live with the disease each year.  While the numbers can be daunting, when detected early, 91 percent of those diagnosed with cervical cancer will survive.

Long-lasting infections with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause almost all cases of cervical cancer. Normal cells of the cervix can gradually develop pre-cancerous changes.  These cells do not suddenly change into cancer. Instead, the normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that may turn into cancer.

The two main types of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma and represent the vast majority of cancer of the cervix. Only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will develop cancer, and it may take several years for cervical pre-cancer to change to cervical cancer. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment, but others will have their pre-cancers turn into invasive cancers.

Detecting and treating all cervical pre-cancers may prevent true cervical cancers. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV test may prevent cervical cancer by detecting pre-cancers before they can turn into an invasive form of cancer. During the past several decades, screening has reduced deaths from cervical cancer by finding the cancer early and treating it or preventing it from developing.

For women it can be very hard not to be exposed to HPV. Passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body, HPV can be spread rapidly and easily.

Available vaccines can protect against infection with the HPV subtypes most commonly linked to cancer. These vaccines help prevent pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix. The vaccines require a series of injections and may cause some mild side effects. The most common are is short-term redness, swelling, and soreness at the injection site.

The American Cancer Society recommends vaccinations for girls and boys beginning at age 11 or 12. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 and males between the ages of 13 and 21. Vaccination at older ages is less effective in lowering cancer risk. No vaccine provides complete protection against all cancer-causing types of HPV, so routine cervical cancer screening is still recommended.

For more than 25 years, Gettysburg Cancer Center has been committed to providing cancer care in a community-based setting close to home. A leader in Oncology care across the region since 1989, Gettysburg Cancer Center’s cancer team provides screening and treatment options to women across York and Adams County.

For the latest information on early detection and treatments for cervical cancer, contact the Gettysburg Cancer Center.

The Importance of Connecting Patients with Clinical Trials in Cancer Research

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Clinical Trials are at the heart of medical research and are critical to finding new paths to prevent, detect and advance new treatment methods and medications for debilitating diseases. Patients with an illness or disease participate in Clinical Trials in order to receive the benefits of the newest treatment options for recovering from their disease and to offer the best opportunity for researchers to find better treatments for others in the future. Treatments may involve new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe and may also investigate other aspects of patient care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.

Providing information to patients, who have been diagnosed with a serious disease, about the specifics and availability of important Trials that may be of benefit to them is proving to be challenging.  ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants being conducted around the world and currently lists 247,989 studies with locations in all 50 States and in 201 countries. But accessing, understanding and utilizing this important data can be difficult and challenging for the average patient undergoing the emotional and physical experience of a recent diagnosis.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf recently delivered a talk, “Finding the Right Balance in Learning about Therapies”, at a conference in New York City. In his address he said, “Our country is experiencing an unprecedented divergence of health outcomes that mirrors gaps in wealth and education…wealthy, highly educated people are benefiting from information that allows them to lead longer, more functional lives, while others are suffering. The clinical trials enterprise has gone awry,” he said. “It’s become unnecessarily expensive, cumbersome and arcane” In his opinion the system has become so costly and onerous that most of the important questions go unasked. “Doctors are heavily conflicted between patients and the institutions they work for,” says Dr. Robert. “The rosy view that doctors and patients are discussing all options and making the best decisions flies in the face of all evidence.”

The research and pharma industry is attempting to create new pathways to connect patients with the data and, most importantly, help them understand which clinical trial is best for their particular disease. The “Innovation and Clinical Trial Tracking Factbook 2017”, is an Assessment of the Pharmaceutical Pipeline listing the thousands of new drugs currently under trial across the U.S. and around the world. VitalTrax taps into a global database of clinical trials and ultimately organizes the complex web of information into a platform that allows patients, physicians, caregivers, and families to search for relevant trials in relevant locations – in a language they can understand.

Zikria Syed, CEO of VitalTrax says his company is taking an “Open Table” approach to enrolling patients in clinical trials. “We’re making a big bet on the fact that patients would appreciate tools that put the information, and an ability to learn about clinical trials and enroll, in their own hands.”

In smaller communities around the country local oncology providers are shortening the gap of distance and time for patients seeking the benefits of clinical trials. At the Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC), Clinical Trials are available to patients who want to participate in this important process. The localized opportunity voids the often long drive to large regional healthcare centers for Trial participants and enhances the patients understanding of the technical and practical elements of the process in a personalized but highly qualified environment.

GCC, a leader in Oncology Care across the Central Pennsylvania region since 1989, is actively involved in providing the latest in clinical trials to their patients throughout their community.

The Resulting Dread of Cancer Survival

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One of the most prolific progressions in research and development over the past decade has been the discovery and development of new treatments and drugs for cancer, for good reason. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI) statistics, cancer has a major impact on our society, both in the United States and around the world.  In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people died from the disease. Nearly 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. It is rare to find anyone who has not dealt with the dreaded disease personally or had a family member or acquaintance suffer from one type or another of cancer.

To answer the call for action in defeating the disease, researchers, oncologist and drug companies have turned-up the pace of research and discovery. Over the past 5 years, 68 new cancer drugs have been approved for various cancers, many producing significant improvement in outcomes for patients. In just the last ten years, drug developers and regulators have successfully shortened the R&D path for approving new cancer drugs safely and efficiently. The global market for cancer immunotherapies, cancer drugs that enlist the body’s immune system to improve patient survival rates, are expected to grow more than fourfold globally by 2022. The number of new drugs in the cancer pipeline has swelled by 45% over the past decade alone.

With the increased activity and availability of promising new therapies for the masses suffering from cancer, one would expect that a downward trend in costs would be a positive result of the new competitive environment. But increased competition and quicker access to market is not producing the expected. In previous decades, new drugs might cost around $10,000 for a year’s treatment. However, according to one recent study, today’s newly approved cancer drugs can cost a patient a staggering $120,000 to $170,000 per year.

The result of this revolution appears to come at a high cost for patients. In the past decade patients paid just 5% of healthcare provider revenue. Today the shifting responsibility to patients for these costs has risen to 35%, and the trend is expected to continue as employers continue to transfer the high cost of healthcare insurance to their employees, the trend to higher insurance deductibles and rising operating and regulatory costs. The result is that too many Americans are struggling to afford the care. Many healthcare consumers are avoiding or delaying needed care or abandoning treatment because of concerns about their ability to pay.

In a system where the patient first learns of the price of their treatment after it has been rendered, many are shocked at the staggering high price and confused and amazed by a complicated and convoluted system of service codes and the seemingly unending list of often unseen providers.  The euphoria and promise of this revolution of discovery is leading many to dread the unfathomable price of recovery and survival.

Gettysburg Cancer Center takes pride in seeking alternative financial resources that can assist its patients in managing the costs of their cancer treatment. To learn more, please contact: Erin or Kasey by calling 717.334.4033 or visiting the website at https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/patients/patient-assistance/.

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Clinical Trials; Offering New and Advanced Treatment Options to Cancer Patients

Once seen as a last chance attempt for cancer patients to turn back the progression of their disease, clinical trials are becoming many sufferers initial treatment option. Clinical trials are research studies that involve humans to aid and assist doctors and researchers in developing new techniques to prevent, treat, diagnose and manage side effects for cancer patients. Trial participants receive either the standard of care or the new medication or procedure that is under study. As a participant, patients receive the latest drugs protocols and treatment procedures available to discover ways to improve the quality of life for those afflicted with the disease. While the dynamics of clinical trials pose some additional risk when compared with long used methods, clinical trials can offer an additional measure of hope for remission or a cure.