Certain tests help find specific types of cancer before signs or symptoms appear. This is called screening. The main goals of cancer screening are to:
Each type of cancer has its own screening tests. Some types of cancer currently do not have an effective screening method. Developing new cancer screening tests is an area of active research.
Screening tests can help doctors find a cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. This may help improve survival. But cancer screening also has a number of risks. These risks include:
What are Cancer Vaccines?
Vaccines, also called vaccinations, are medicines that help the body fight disease. They can train the immune system to recognize and destroy harmful substances. There are 2 types of cancer vaccines:
Cancer prevention vaccines
Doctors give prevention vaccines to healthy people to keep certain cancers from developing. Like vaccines for the chicken pox or the flu, they protect the body from viruses that can cause disease. A person has to get the vaccine before the virus infects him or her. Otherwise, the vaccine will not work.
There are 2 types of cancer prevention vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
HPV can also cause other cancers the FDA has not approved the vaccine for, such as oral cancer.
Talk with your health care team about whether you should be vaccinated against HPV and/or HBV.
Cancer treatment vaccines
Cancer treatment vaccines, also called therapeutic vaccines, are a type of immunotherapy. The vaccines work to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight a cancer. Doctors give treatment vaccines to people already diagnosed with cancer. The vaccines may:
How a cancer treatment vaccine works
Antigens are substances on the surface of cells that are not normally part of the body. The immune system attacks the antigens, usually getting rid of them. This leaves the immune system with a “memory” that helps it respond to those antigens in the future.
Cancer treatment vaccines boost the immune system’s ability to recognize and destroy antigens. Often, cancer cells have certain molecules called cancer-specific antigens on their surface that healthy cells do not have. When these molecules are given to a person, the molecules act as antigens. They stimulate the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells that have these molecules on their surface. Most cancer vaccines also contain adjuvants, which are substances that may help strengthen the immune response.
Some cancer vaccines are made for individual patients. These types of vaccines are produced from the person’s tumor sample. This means that surgery is needed to get a large enough sample of the tumor to create the vaccine. Other cancer vaccines target specific cancer antigens and are given to people whose tumors have those antigens on the surface of the tumor cells.
Most cancer treatment vaccines are only available through clinicaltrials, which are research studies involving volunteers. But in 2010, the FDA approved sipuleucel-T (Provenge) for men with metastatic prostate cancer. Metastatic means the cancer has spread from where it began to other parts of the body. Sipuleucel-T is customized for each person through a series of steps.
Limitations of cancer treatment vaccines
Developing cancer treatment vaccines that work is hard because:
Because of these reasons, some researchers think cancer treatment vaccines may work better for smaller tumors or early-stage cancers.
Vaccines and clinical trials
Clinical trials are important for learning more about cancer vaccines. Researchers are testing vaccines for several types of cancers, including:
Scalp hypothermia is cooling the scalp with ice packs or cooling caps (cold caps) for a period of time before, during, and after each chemotherapy (chemo) treatment to try to prevent or reduce hair loss.
Newer versions of these devices use a two-piece cooling cap system that is controlled by a computer, which helps circulate a cooled liquid through a cap a person wears during each chemotherapy treatment. A second cap, made from neoprene (a type of artificial rubber), covers the cooling cap to hold it in place and keep the cold from escaping.
The theory behind scalp hypothermia is that the cooling tightens up or constricts blood vessels in the scalp. This constriction is thought to reduce the amount of chemo that reaches the cells of the hair follicles. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and makes them less attractive to chemo, which targets rapidly dividing cells. This could reduce the effect of chemo on the follicle cells and, as a result, prevent or reduce hair loss from the scalp.
Controlled studies of older forms of scalp hypothermia (such as using ice packs) have had conflicting results. However, some studies of newer, computer-controlled cooling cap systems have shown benefits. Recent studies of women getting chemo for early-stage breast cancer have found that at least half of the women using one of these newer devices lost less than half of their hair. The most common side effects have been headaches, neck and shoulder discomfort, chills, and scalp pain.
The success of scalp hypothermia may be related to the type of chemo drugs used, the chemo dosage, and how well the person tolerates the coldness.
Some research has also suggested that people with a thicker hair layer might be more likely to lose hair than those with a thinner layer of hair. This might be because the scalp doesn’t cool down enough due to the insulating effect of the hair.
Cooling caps that are not fitted tightly have also been linked with more hair loss, often in patches where contact with the scalp is poor.
There remain some unanswered questions about the safety of scalp hypothermia. Some doctors are concerned that the cold could keep chemo from reaching any stray cancer cells lurking in the scalp. Some believe that the scalp cooling might protect cancer cells there and allow them to survive the chemo and keep growing. But in people who have used scalp hypothermia, reports of cancer in the scalp have been rare. More studies are needed to answer questions about long-term safety.
Researchers have learned about some of the differences in cancer cells (or other cells near them) that help them grow and thrive. This has led to the development of drugs that “target” these differences. Treatment with these drugs is called targeted therapy.
Targeted therapy drugs, like other drugs used to treat cancer, technically are considered chemotherapy. But targeted therapy drugs don’t work the same way as standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs. For example, many targeted drugs go after the cancer cells’ inner workings – the programming that makes them different from normal, healthy cells, while leaving most healthy cells alone. These drugs tend to have side effects different from standard chemo drugs.
Targeted drugs can be used as the main treatment for some cancers, but in most cases they’re used with other treatments such as chemo, surgery, and/or radiation therapy.
Most standard chemo drugs work by killing cells in the body that grow and divide quickly. Cancer cells divide quickly, which is why these drugs often work against them. But chemo drugs can also affect other cells in the body that divide quickly, which can sometimes lead to serious side effects.
Targeted therapy drugs don’t work like chemo drugs. These drugs target certain parts of cancer cells that make them different from other cells. (Or they may target other cells that help cancer cells grow.)
Cancer cells typically have many changes in their genes (DNA) that make them different from normal cells. For instance, these gene changes might allow the cell to stop working the way it should and/or grow and divide very quickly. These types of changes are what make it a cancer cell.
But there are many different types of cancer, and not all cancer cells are the same. For example, colon cancer and breast cancer cells often have different gene changes that help them grow and/or spread. Even among people with colon cancer, the cancer cells can have different gene changes.
Targeted drugs zero in on some of the changes that make cancer cells different. They target specific areas of the cancer cell that allow the cell to grow faster and abnormally. There are many different targets on cancer cells and many drugs that have been developed to attack them.
Targeted drugs can work to:
Some targeted drugs are more “targeted” than others. Some might target only a single change in cancer cells, while others can affect several different changes. Others boost the way your body fights the cancer cells. This can affect where these drugs work and what side effects they cause.