Cancer Treatment Centers of America
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Precision Cancer Treatment Targeting cancer with smarter solutions

Researchers and doctors are now looking at cancer's blueprint and, with that knowledge, we are working on ways to outsmart that cancer whenever possible.

How cancer develops

The human body is a collection of cells, each programmed with a purpose or to perform a specific function. These cells are wired to work together for the body's greater good. They form our skin, hair and muscles, turn food into energy and fight off disease. And when they get old or broken, cells shut themselves down and make room for new cells.

"Normal cells are very much in tune with the rest of the body and where their place is. But cancer cells don’t follow these rules," says Dr. Shayma Master Kazmi, Hematologist-Oncologist & Medical Oncologist at our hospital in Philadelphia. For instance:

  • Normal cells know when to stop growing; cancer cells grow out of control.
  • Normal cells are programmed to kill themselves when they mutate; cancer cells survive even after becoming defective.
  • Normal cells send signals to promote good health; cancer cells communicate to grow and to evade the body's defenses.

Researchers and doctors are gaining a better understanding of how cancer behaves, what cellular rules it breaks and how it evades the immune system. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our cancer experts are committed to delivering treatments designed to target and short-circuit these behaviors and empower the immune system to recognize and fight the cancer, when those treatments are available to and clinically appropriate for a particular patient.

Evolutions in the standard of care

For decades, doctors have relied on three primary methods to treat cancer. "Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation are not new treatments, but they are constantly evolving," says Dr. Justin Chura, Chief of Surgery and Director of Gynecologic Oncology and Robotic Surgery at our hospital in Philadelphia. With research and innovation, many of these tools overall have become more precise, allowing doctors to offer improved treatments with potentially fewer side effects, when clinically appropriate.

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Surgery

Surgery removes the cancer and affected tissue from the body. In some cases, this is the primary treatment. But surgery may also be used with other treatments to help kill remaining cancer cells or to shrink tumors that are hard to reach or that can't be removed without damaging nearby tissue or organs. Today’s techniques in laparoscopic and robotic surgery are designed to reduce the risk of infection and improve recovery times.

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Radiation therapy

This treatment aims beams of high-energy radioactive waves, like X-rays, directly at the cancer. Over time, these damaged cells may begin to shrivel and die, shrinking the tumor. Today’s technology may help radiation therapy pinpoint very small tumors, but some nearby healthy cells may still be affected. New-generation radiation therapy includes options designed to deliver concentrated doses directly to the tumor site.

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Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs are designed to circulate throughout the bloodstream, find fast-growing cells and kill them or slow their growth. But chemotherapy can't tell the difference between fast-growing cancer cells and some fast-growing normal cells, like those found on hair follicles, which is why patients often lose their hair. Newer approaches are designed to deliver the drugs directly to the tumor, rather than distributing it throughout the body.

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The promise of precision cancer treatment

The era of precision cancer treatment is bringing cancer care to a cellular level. New and developing tools are designed to zero in on cellular characteristics that allow a tumor to grow or evade the immune system. These breakthroughs have helped researchers develop new techniques and therapies and use existing drugs to help identify these targets and develop drugs designed specifically to counteract them. At CTCA®, our cancer experts are committed to delivering innovative diagnostic and treatment options whenever possible. For some patients who meet certain criteria, for example, advanced genomic testing and immunotherapy may offer more targeted approaches.

Precision cancer treatment means identifying, as precisely as possible, what makes the cancer grow and spread, and attacking it with a very specific agent designed to have a positive outcome with fewer side effects.

Advanced genomic testing

Advanced genomic testing is a diagnostic tool designed to identify specific mutations in the DNA of cancer cells. Some cancers may have no known mutation, and some may have only one; others may have several—any one of which could be driving the growth of the tumor. If a mutation is recognized, it may help doctors recommend a precision cancer treatment that targets only the cells with those mutations. Advanced genomic testing, though, is not recommended for all patients.

Targeted therapy

One of the precision cancer treatments that may be recommended based on the results of advanced genomic testing is targeted therapy. These drugs are designed to seek out and find specific genes or proteins that may be unique to cancer cells or influence their behavior. When they've reached their target, these drugs may either kill the cell or help other treatments, such as chemotherapy, work better. Targeted therapy is an evolving science, and not all cancer types may be treated with targeted therapy drugs.

With advanced genomic testing, you’re trying to identify mutations within cancer cells that are kind of an Achilles' heel of that tumor that you can then target or use that to the cancer’s disadvantage." — Dr. Cynthia Lynch Medical Oncologist; Medical Director of the
Breast Center at CTCA near Phoenix
Learn more about advanced genomic testing Learn more about targeted therapy

Immunotherapy

The body's immune system is designed to seek out and attack viruses or defective cells that can make us sick or cause infections. But because cancer cells are the body's own cells that have mutated, the immune system may not identify them as a threat when it encounters them at certain "checkpoints." Cancer cells often send signals at these checkpoints that trick the immune system, preventing an immune response.

Checkpoint inhibitors

To disrupt those signals, researchers have developed a new series of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs work by blocking specific protein receptors on the surface of cells. This is designed to allow the immune cells to recognize the cancer cells, accelerate past the checkpoints and attack the cancer cells. Because this is a new line of treatment, immunotherapies are only available to patients who meet certain criteria, which often include their cancer type and may include whether they have exhausted standard treatment options. But new and evolving clinical trials are teaching researchers more about immunotherapy’s potential uses.

There’s an explosion of information about immunotherapy and the basic concept of trying to assist patients to use their own immune system to fight the cancer." — Dr. Pamela Crilley Chair, Department of Medical Oncology at CTCA;
Chief of Medical Oncology at CTCA in Philadelphia
Learn more about immunotherapy Learn more about checkpoint inhibitors
Our goal is to get the best possible therapy to that individual patient based on all the things we know about them personally, and about the abnormalities of their cancer, after examining the tumor at a molecular level.

Clinical trials

CTCA is committed to bringing our patients innovative cancer treatment options. Our clinical trials explore treatment options that may lead to tomorrow’s medicine and offer patients treatments that may not otherwise be available to them. These studies are an essential testing ground for measuring the safety, effectiveness and potential side effects of drugs and other treatments before they can be granted government approval.

"The evolution of cancer care has really been astounding over the past few years. I’ve been in oncology for over 25 years, and I’ve seen how science in the laboratory and in clinical trials can be translated into patient care. And we believe very strongly in clinical trials as an option for our patients."

One of these clinical trials is the Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR) study. Led by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and offered at all five CTCA hospitals, the study aims to improve our understanding of how commercially available anti-cancer drugs perform on a broader range of cancers, by matching the drugs to tumors with specific genomic mutations that the drugs are designed to target. This study, like other clinical trials, is not available to or appropriate for all patients. Your care team will work with you to determine whether you are a candidate for TAPUR or one of our other ongoing clinical trials.