Need for user-friendly cancer therapy

Lahja Nashuuta

CANCER is one of the leading killers not only in Southern Africa, but also across the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Southern Africa continues to shoulder a disproportionately high rate of world cancer deaths with cervical cancer killing more women than any other type of cancer.

This, WHO says, is due to a number of factors, including the region’s high HIV burden.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also reveals that about 715,000 new cases of cancer and 542,000 cancer-related deaths were recorded in 2008 in Africa.

These numbers are projected to nearly double to 28 million new cancer cases and 970,000 deaths by 2030.

In Namibia, with a small population of 2.2 million, on average more than 3,000 people are diagnosed with cancer annually, according records from the Cancer Association of Namibia.

Between 2015 and 2016, more than 368 cases of breast cancer and 246 new cases of cervical cancer were recorded on the Namibia National Cancer Registry.

Cancer can be treated easily and successfully if diagnosed early. But one of the challenges and frightening ordeals of the treatment process that strikes terror into the hearts of many victims is chemotherapy.

Chemo, as is it known in the medical circles, is one of the standard treatment procedures for people suffering from cancer. WHO notes that chemotherapy is designed to attack and hopefully kill cancer cells, or at least slow their growth.

Although many people believe that chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can bring about several benefits such as slowing down the growth of cancer cells and preventing them from spreading further, others are of the opinion that it is not always as helpful as it seems.

Although the procedure is meant to attack cancerous cells, it has also been blamed for killing healthy cells. This, in turn, results in a wide range of side effects. One of the most common side effect is excruciating pain. Chemotherapy is also said to bring about adverse effects such as organ damage, including loss of hair and colour.

In most cases, people with cancer complain of exhaustion, headaches, muscle pain, stomach pain and peripheral neuropathy.

Besides, cancer therapy has also been said to cause certain kinds of cancer. For instance, tamoxifen is used to treat breast cancer, but studies have found out that it can promote liver, uterine, and ovarian cancer.

Of course, cancer is not a killer disease and it is curable but there is a need to come up with medication that is opposed to chemotherapy side effects and making it user-friendly. There are beliefs that what kills most cancer patients is not the disease itself but fear and anxiety also known as cancer phobia.

More studies are being carried out to improve chemotherapy like the one being done at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, USA, to introduce what will be known as Molecularly Targeted Therapy.

Dr Brian Druker, director of the Leukemia Program at the Oregon Health Sciences University, and the main researcher on the drug, was quoted as saying in the New England Journal of Medicine that the drug will work by targeting specific genes or proteins.

These genes and proteins are found in cancer cells or in cells related to cancer growth, like blood vessel cells. Doctors often use targeted therapy with chemotherapy and other treatments.

“If we understand the critical abnormalities that drive a cancer, we can target the cancer with an effective and non-toxic therapy,” Druker says. “We need to identify the critical abnormalities in each and every cancer so drugs can be developed for each cancer” he said.

He said the targeted therapies are often cytostatic, which block tumour cell proliferation, whereas standard chemotherapy agents are cytotoxic (that is, they kill tumour cells). I believe such clinical studies need to be supported and fast tracked in order to relief cancer patients from painful chemotherapy.

March 2017
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