Nearly 40{6384fcfd8fdf42b2dfea7786dee3691e10a3d07183bdb1c2a3f7e4f0e88e0942} of Americans will develop cancer at some point in their lives. As the second leading cause of death in America, cancer has become a prime target for medical researchers. The past year saw a number of advances in cancer treatment.

Precision Medicine

Each patient’s cancer is unique in certain respects, and it is hard to predict how it will react to treatment. With personalized medicine, doctors create a treatment plan specifically for the tumor in question and facilitate tumor shrinkage. By studying the gene mutations of the tumor, doctors can determine which treatment has the highest chance of success.

Because the targeted treatments are not broad-based, like chemotherapy, they often work better and have fewer side effects. The drawback right now is that relatively few kinds of cancer are treatable with precision therapy. Researchers continue to investigate and expect to find more kinds of cancer they can treat with targeted therapy.

Genetic Treatments

Genomics is the study of changes in DNA. By looking at the mutations in cancer genes, doctors can predict how the cancer will behave and therefore how best to treat it. Knowing these mutations helps doctors diagnose the specific type of cancer, predict outcomes for the cancer, find the right drugs or other treatment for that cancer, and monitor how well the treatment works.

Doctors can target specific gene mutations with specific drugs. As researchers continue to learn more about cancer mutations, more possibilities open up for gene treatments.


Your body has natural defenses against damaged cells. Only when damaged cells grow out of control does your body lose the ability to cope on its own. Immunotherapy seeks to bolster your body’s own defenses to fight cancer. It comes in several varieties:

  • Monoclonal antibodies. Antibodies seek out foreign and damaged cells and attach themselves to the cells. Once they do so, they send out a signal for other antibodies to attack the cell. Scientists design monoclonal antibodies in a laboratory to target cancer cells.
  • Checkpoint inhibitors. A cell has checkpoints on its surface that identify it as a member of the body and therefore not a target for attack. Some types of cancer can use checkpoints to escape from antibodies, but checkpoint inhibitors remove these checkpoints so your body can take over.
  • Cancer vaccines. Vaccines teach your immune system to fight a specific disease. There are vaccines that prevent cancer, but also vaccines that strengthen the immune system against a cancer already present.
  • Cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that control the production and behavior of immune cells. By targeting these, doctors can help you produce more antibodies to attack the cancer more aggressively.
  • CAR T-cell therapy. T-cells defend your body against viruses and other foreign elements. Doctors can remove T-cells from your body, change their genes to help them target cancer cells, and then reintroduce them into the body.

We still have no cure for cancer, but treatments are getting incrementally better all the time. Old methods improve and new methods are pioneered. Survival rates creep steadily upward. One day we will find a cure, and some of the breakthroughs from 2018 are important steps toward that goal.