Whenever the word “Cancer” is used, the next word that comes to mind is “Chemotherapy”.
While this form of drug treatment is closely associated with cancer management, it is not the only course of treatment that an oncologist would prescribe.
“These days, we are often able to treat cancers not with chemotherapy alone, but either by using targeted agents, monoclonal antibodies or immunotherapy” points out Dr Ang Peng Tiam, Medical Director and Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology at Singapore’s Parkway Medical Centre.
As the name suggests, targeted therapy, which emerged globally as a treatment option over a decade ago, works by targeting cancer cells without affecting a person’s normal cells.
“With better understanding of the oncogenic pathways within the cancer cells, we are often able to use targeted agents to interrupt the growth and proliferation of the cancer cells, leading to the eventual death of the cancer” says the veteran oncologist.
Dr Ang adds that some cancers can also be treated by deploying monoclonal antibodies which block specific receptors found on the surface of cancer cells.
Another major advancement in the management of cancer is immunotherapy. A more recently approved form of treatment, immunotherapy uses a person's own immune system to fight cancer.
As Dr Ang explains, “immunotherapy acts by unveiling the 'camouflage' used by the cancer cells to hide itself from the body’s immune system, so that our immune system may be able to detect these cancer cells and eradicate them.”
“Very often, we will combine chemotherapy together with immunotherapy or combine chemotherapy with monoclonal antibodies” says Dr Ang.
“These are all methods in which we will deploy to get the best possible results in terms of either controlling the disease or even curing the cancers.”
Getting the Best Fighting Chance
Apart from treatment, early detection also plays an important role in helping a person overcome cancer.
Dr Ang points out that “it is very important to try to diagnose cancer as early as possible.”
“In early stage cancer, surgery alone may be enough to eradicate the disease and achieve a good chance of a cure.”
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer, often comes with a tumult of questions and fears.
So Dr Ang offers this piece of sound advice.
“One of the most important things when you're diagnosed with cancer is, don't panic.”
“There are many advances in cancer management. It is very important to keep calm and listen to your doctor” he says.
With close to 30 years in the field of cancer treatment, Dr Ang agrees that it could be helpful to seek a second opinion. But what’s most crucial is the first step.
“Always remember, the first treatment is the most important treatment, as that gives you the best chance of a cure.”
Dr Ang also shared his insights with participants at a recent webinar, where new treatment methods such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy were discussed in depth.
Produced in partnership with Parkway Cancer Centre