With the world’s population constantly growing, the number of daily cancer diagnoses also increase and although incredible research and developments in the treatment of cancer are being carried out every day, the demand placed on cancer centres and hospitals is still higher than manageable in many developed countries. Fortunately, as state-of-the-art treatments become more readily available and cost-effective, the strain placed on services can be reduced, however many areas are still dealing with understaffing, underfunding and problematic misuse.
Currently the outlook for cancer diagnosis is approximately 1 in every 2 people and although the survival rate for cancer is the highest it’s been since 1990 in many areas of the world, a shortage of cancer specialists across hospitals and centres means that patients are waiting longer to receive treatments. This has also put an increased demand on cancer charities who provide patients with necessary emotional and mental support throughout their treatment journey, a role normally shared with or fulfilled by cancer care teams.
What Are Advanced Cancer Treatments?
State-of-the-art cancer treatments include proton beam therapy and more recently, MRI-guided radiotherapy. These treatment methods are advanced developments of conventional radiotherapy and provide cancer treatment using radiation technology, with the intention to kill or destroy the growth of cancer cells.
How Proton Beam Therapy Works
Proton beam therapy uses protons in place of the x-rays (photons) used in conventional radiotherapy and combined with pencil beam scanning technology, uses extremely accurate targeting to ‘beam’ protons into the tumour, interrupting the growth and function of cancer cells and eventually causing the cancer cells to die. As it is a highly accurate delivery method for cancer treatment, doses can be increased and delivered within a tighter time frame and cancer treatment delivery plans potentially shortened. This can help reduce the number of patients waiting to start their treatment as more patients can be treated in a single centre in a day and complete the cancer treatment plan faster than using conventional radiotherapy.
An additional benefit of utilising proton beam therapy is the reduced side effects experienced by the patient. While all radiation therapy can cause fatigue, nausea and in some cases, skin reactions, the accurate targeting of proton beam therapy ensures fewer healthy cells surrounding the tumour receive radiation, reducing the overall severity of side effects. The reduced side effects ensure a smoother cancer treatment journey for patients and helps to lighten the load on supportive care teams providing additional therapies and support for side effects.
How MRI-Guided Radiotherapy Works
MRI-guided radiation therapy is a relatively new treatment method but utilises two existing technologies; radiotherapy LINAC or linear accelerator machines and magnetic resonance imaging machines or MRIs. This method is considered another type of highly-accurate targeted treatment and uses real-time imaging to track movements in the tumour. Should the identified tumour move out of the treatment view, delivery of the radiation is automatically paused and does not continue until the tumour is safely back in the targeted area.
Due to the nature of radiation treatment, side effects are still to be anticipated including site-specific side effects that depend on where treatment is delivered and overall side effects including nausea and fatigue. Similar to proton beam therapy however, the severity of experienced side effects is dramatically reduced in comparison to conventional radiotherapy providing a less intense treatment journey to patients.
As this is another highly targeted treatment, it offers the same benefits to reducing strain on cancer services by allowing more patients to receive treatment in a day and shortening the overall treatment plan for patients depending on their individual circumstances.
While the availability of this treatment is still fairly limited, as funding becomes more available and developments are made, unreasonable cancer treatment waiting times and over exhausted supportive care services could soon become a relic of the past.