Image: Cancer care management is a shared decision strategy between the patient and the family.
MANILA, Philippines — How do we beat cancer?
Cancer remains as a national health priority in the Philippines.
A disease caused by a malignant growth or tumor, cancer is the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality, following heart and vascular diseases, according to the Philippine Health Statistics. According to latest statistics released in 2012, about 50,000 to 60,000 Filipinos die from cancer every year.
These, however, do not mean that cancer, despite being a “spectrum of different diseases,” cannot be treated.
For medical oncologist Dr. Denky dela Rosa, cancer management is important to know what type of treatment should be applied.
“There are different faces of cancer which can be treated with different treatments. It is important to know that the management of cancer is not purely physician-driven,” Dela Rosa said.
“Some patients have very advanced diseases that cannot be cured while some with stage 4 disease actually have very minimal disease. It is only a matter of prolonging his life and lessening the suffering,” she added.
Here are some of the continually improving types of treatment for cancer:
According to the National Cancer Institute, chemotherapy utilizes drugs to slow down or kill the growth of cancer cells. These drugs also destroy the cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Nonetheless, as one of the staple treatments for all kinds of cancer, chemotherapy frightens many patients and families due to its side effects. As the drugs kill fast-growing tumors, it also destroys the growth of healthy cells that result to hair loss, mouth sores and nausea.
But for Dela Rosa, the stigma against the side effects of chemotherapy should now be lessened because of the continuing “redevelopments” in the strategies applied on the therapy.
“We now have very good medicines that will be able to control the vomiting and hair fall,” the doctor said.
For those who fear vomiting, there is now a continuing upgrade applied on some medicines that protect the healthy cells on the mouth and intestines. A cold cap to lessen the amount of hair fall is also being introduced.
“The management is ideally a consensus among the members of the health care team as well as the family and the patient,” Dela Rosa said, adding that the use of new treatments is optional and can be discussed among the family.
2. Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is one of the recently introduced type of cancer treatments.
Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapy uses drugs that stop the growth and spread of cancer cells by acting on specific “molecular targets” or only the cells associated with the growth of cancer.
Targeted therapy is often used to block tumor cell proliferation or as a cytostatic and is focused on precision medicine, which uses information about the patient’s genes usually found through biopsies.
Along with the introduction of new treatments to cancer, new tests are also being implemented to identify the proper treatment appropriate to the biology and principles of the patient, which helps on knowing what type of medicine or drugs should be given.
As of now, there are two types of targeted therapies: monoclonal antibody drugs which is targeted on the area outside the cancer to restore or enhance the immune system’s attack on cancer cells; and small-molecule drugs, which targeted on blocking the cancer cells from spreading and developing.
Dr. Denky dela Rosa, oncologist
Although a foreign object in the body, cancer can still be recognized by the immune system as an unhealthy cell. With immunotherapy, the immune system is strengthened to help fight cancer and stop the tumor from growing.
“One of the principles of cancer management is knowing that our body has the ability to heal itself, and this can be strengthened through immunotherapy,” Dela Rosa said.
In the cancer management report by Dela Rosa, the difference in the effects of cancer to the patient always lies on the patient’s biology.
Immunotherapy prevents the interaction between the cancerous chemicals and healthy organs through using the immune system to eliminate it immediately.
“Even if they all rise, they are actually different diseases from one person to another. All patients have differing biology, the reason why some patients survive longer,” Dela Rosa reported.
“Most of the time when the patient manifest symptoms, it has already transferred to a different organ. It is important to know that there are actually different mechanisms to attack the cancer cells,” she added.
Dela Rosa’s cancer management program promotes proper knowledge on different kinds of therapies to know what properly fits the patient.
“There are patients with stage 4 diseases who actually have vey minimal disease that we can do a lot. I have a patient now who is surviving for almost 10 years and this patient actually has stage 4 colon cancer,” said Dela Rosa, whose clinics are at St. Luke’s Medical Center Bonifacio Global City MAB 820 and University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
“The management is ideally a consensus among the members of the health care team as well as the family and the patient,” she said. “It’s time to shift our management from being very aggressive to just provide comfort to the patient.”