When a patient receives a systemic treatment, such as chemotherapy, then the cancer-fighting drug reaches every cell in the body. Because cancer-fighting medicines slow cell growth, their effects have the greatest impact on fast-growing cells. They hamper the growth of cancer cells, but they can also slow the creation of certain healthy cells, such as the cells of the immune system.
A cancer-fighting drug impedes the functioning of the cell mechanisms that allow for rapid and successful cell division. Cancer cells stop dividing rapidly, when a patient is
subjected to chemotherapy. Yet healthy cells that take part in the renewal of certain body cells can also be affected by chemotherapy.
That explains why patients undergoing chemotherapy frequently loose their hair. In addition, those same patients often feel nauseated and tired following chemotherapy. The damage done to the cancer cells invokes harmful effects on certain healthy cells.
Scientists are now seeking to develop a “magic bullet.” That would be a cancer-fighting drug that attacked only cancer cells. As researchers learn more about the antigens on cancer cells, they are better able to develop needed antibodies. A drug that contained such antibodies would be attracted to cancer cells.
If a cancer-fighting drug were somehow “guided” to the cancer cells, then the treated patient would suffer no damage to his or her healthy cells. The cell damage would take place in a localized area. Hence, one might reasonably ask this question: Can a magic bullet offer local therapy?
If tests show that a magic bullet can serve as a form of local therapy, then tests must be planned. Such tests would indicate whether or not any unforeseen side effects occurred as a result of a treatment that relied on a magic bullet. Such tests show doctors the true benefits and dangers of any new drug, any new treatment.
Because there are so many children with cancer, clinical trials on adults, such as those described above would not be sufficient. Doctors would also want to know whether or not they could safely treat children with some sort of magic bullet. They would need data that could inform them about the proper dose to give a small child.
The hope is that one day all cancer can be treated with a less invasive, less harmful form of local therapy. Researchers in the many biomedical laboratories now work with that vision foremost in their minds. Findings from all basic research must then be used to develop newer, better targeted drugs.
As the various treatments for cancer improve, so do diagnostic tools, the methods that can guarantee an early detection of cancer.