What are the most promising new weapons in the war on cancer?

By: Elizabeth Sprouse

More of Cancer's Most Promising Treatments

Another treatment area growing in popularity is targeted cancer therapy. In this approach, drugs are developed to stop the overactive cell production inherent in cancer. Results are achieved in different ways depending on the type of cancer. For example, targeted therapy can be used to kill cells, recruit the immune system to attack cancer cells or block enzymes that call for hyperactive growth. Currently, several targeted therapies have been approved by the FDA for use in humans, while others are still in the research phase [source: National Cancer Institute].

In targeted therapy, we mentioned using our own immune systems to fight cancer. As you probably know, our immune systems help protect us from getting sick. Fighting cancer requires that the immune system recognize that cancer cells are functioning abnormally. That's where another hopeful treatment -- immunotherapy -- comes into the picture. Researchers have now discovered that our immune system might be able to fight cancer, especially blood cancers. There are three methods of immunotherapy:


  • Vaccines: This method triggers a reaction within the body that makes the immune system attack cancer cells.
  • Cell treatment: In this type of immunotherapy, patients receive donor white blood cells that recognize cancer cells as the atypical cells they are and therefore destroy them.
  • Antibodies: This process involves an antigen to cause production of an antibody that marks the cancer cells as "bad," which serves as a signal for the immune system to attack.

[source: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society]

If we somehow create an environment where cancer cells can no longer thrive, the hope is that they'll stop growing and die. This is the thought behind using anti-angiogenesis to treat cancer. Angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels, which keep our body's tissues nice and healthy. Our cells need healthy tissue to live and grow, but cancer cells need healthy tissue even more than normal cells. Cut off angiogenesis by messing up the proteins in charge of that process, and you just might cut off cancer cells' ability to keep growing. Using proteins to stop angiogenesis is not particularly new, however. In fact, certain treatments are already in clinical trials, and the FDA just approved a drug that goes after the cells in the lining of blood vessels to work against metastatic cancer [source: Trafton].

To find out what's new with angiogenesis and cancer treatment, keep reading.