Cancer used to be a battle that was won or lost.
Now, thanks to advances in cancer treatment, for many people there is a third option: living with cancer.
“Cancer increasingly is becoming a chronic illness, like diabetes or heart disease,” says Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist Manojkumar Bupathi, MD. “We have so many new drug combinations, we understand more about tumor biology, immunotherapy is becoming a more standard cancer treatment — all this was not the case even five years ago.”
With many chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, when one medication no longer works to control the disease, the patient’s doctor typically turns to another therapy option, or adds a drug to the patient’s regimen.
The same now can be true for many cancers. “In cancer, we’re looking at tumor genetics to understand why a medication is no longer working, and look for the right drug,” Dr. Bupathi says.
Less Toxic Cancer Treatment Emerging
Cancer treatment can be costly, and some treatments may be difficult to tolerate. Fortunately, many emerging cancer treatments, including tumor biology and immunotherapy, are less toxic, and a significant number of anti-cancer drugs now can be taken orally, meaning patients may not have travel to a clinic for an intravenous infusion for each treatment.
How long treatment for “chronic” cancer can or will continue varies depending on the patient, and the type of cancer. Other factors that may determine how long treatment will last include:
- The length of time between recurrences
- Overall health
- How well treatment is tolerated
- How well the cancer responds to treatment
Managing side effects and improved quality of life
As with other chronic diseases, life with cancer may not look exactly like life before diagnosis. Patients may want to, or have to, modify what they eat, how they exercise, and their work schedule, and many need more rest.
The goal is for patients to live their lives, whether that means working full time, or heading to the ski slopes. And with more and more options available to manage side effects, that is possible for many patients. “Toxicity of cancer treatments is evolving,” Dr. Bupathi says. “And as we have patients on these therapies longer, we can better understand how they respond, and what the long-term effects are.”
And he points out, new treatments are constantly emerging, thanks to clinical trials, like those Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers participates in.
“Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers has a strong value of interest in patient care and research,” Dr. Bupathi says. “What drives me is the ability to put patients on novel treatments.”