Where is Cancer Treatment Going?

The road to creating life-extending and life-saving cancer treatments has included milestone achievements over the years.

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapies have served as the foundation in the fight against cancer. But as treatments have evolved and become more refined, physician specialists like oncologist/hematologist Barry Firstenberg, D.O., of Texas Health Physicians Group’s Arlington Cancer Center have been able to use more personalized approaches to cancer treatment.

“My guiding principle is always to treat the patient who has cancer rather than focus on treating the cancer in the patient,” says Firstenberg. “Arlington Cancer Center is at the forefront of personalizing cancer treatment for each patient based on his or her genes, also known as genomics. As genomics plays an increasingly crucial role in cancer tumor assessment, my colleagues and I can better understand and identify gene mutations that may be fueling a cancer. This in-depth exploration of a person’s genetic makeup will serve to promote precision cancer therapy.”

In addition to advancements in chemotherapy, Firstenberg adds that biopharmaceutical research is playing a role in cancer treatment, specifically in helping to identify how the body’s immune system fights cancer. This research helps in the development of targeted immunotherapies.


The Promise of Immuno-Oncology

Immunotherapies enlist and harness the power of an individual’s own immune system to fight cancer, similarly to how it would attack a virus or bacteria. Immunotherapy treatments facilitate a stronger immune response to cancer using immune checkpoint inhibitors that show the immune system what cancer looks like so it can better identify, target and kill the diseased tumor cells.

Coming to the forefront is a type of immunotherapy approach called adoptive cell transfer, or ACT. With ACT, a patient’s own immune cells are collected and used to treat their cancer. There are several types of ACTs, but the one that has advanced the furthest in clinical development to date is chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T).

A new treatment offered at the Arlington Cancer Center is CAR T-cell therapy.  T-cell therapy works by transforming a patient’s white blood cells into a powerful army to fight and destroy cancer cells. To receive this treatment, a patient’s T-cells are removed and fortified with a new gene that allows the cells to recognize cancer. The new T-cells are then administered to the patient intravenously to go to work identifying and targeting cancer cells. CAR T-cell therapy is used primarily in the treatment of blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. The National Cancer Institute has reported that such treatments have captured the attention of researchers and the public alike because of remarkable outcomes they have produced in both children and adults for whom all other treatments had stopped working.


Building on a Foundation

Other approaches to immuno-oncology are under investigation as well, such as nanotechnology, used to create CAR T-cells inside the body, and gene-editing technology used to more precisely engineer the T-cells.

“It’s exciting to see the ability to make antigen inhibitors and to be working in alliance with world-class institutions such as UT Southwestern Medical Center on research and implementing T-cell therapies for our patients,” says Firstenberg. “We’re seeing good success at Arlington Cancer Center using immunotherapy in the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer. It’s been FDA-approved for the treatment of around seven types of cancer now, and certain types of breast cancer are a real focus area for immunotherapy research and advances.”

“The foundation has long been here, we just needed to determine how to best build on it and apply it. By looking at the gene more in-depth, we can better personalize cancer treatment. I think we have to use all of the modalities available to us and continue to do the research to develop therapies that are personalized for each unique individual. The end goal is always to help patients live longer with improved quality of life,” he adds.


To learn more about cancer care available through Arlington Cancer Center and Texas Health Physicians Group practices, please visit THPG.org. To find an oncology/hematology specialist or to schedule an appointment with Firstenberg or one of his colleagues, call THPG at 1-877-217-4566.

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