Here are some of the ways researchers and physicians are helping enable a brighter future for cancer care:

1. Specialists are becoming more integrative

In the past, people diagnosed with cancer saw different specialists sequentially, and often, they did not collaborate. There would be a hand-off from a surgeon to a radiation or medical oncologist, with little or no teamwork among them. Not today, says Dee Khuntia M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer of Varian, a manufacturer of cancer treatment technology and software systems. That’s due in large part to an emerging integrative approach that research suggests can be beneficial in numerous ways. This multidisciplinary approach has been shown to sharpen cancer staging accuracy, raise patients’ awareness of treatment options, improve the consistency and cost-effectiveness of patients’ care, lead to better recruitment for clinical trials, and educate physicians on advancements in oncology, says Kolleen Kennedy, president of Varian’s oncology division. “This last one is exceptionally important,” Kennedy says. “Members of multidisciplinary teams learn about new developments and clinical trials more quickly, and this learning impacts their treatment recommendations.”

2. Personalized medicine for greater efficacy

“In the medical oncology space, the drugs we’re using are far more targeted than they ever were before,” Dr. Khuntia says. “For example, a decade-plus ago, standard approaches involved what we call cytotoxic chemotherapy, where the drugs are typically injected into the vein. But these agents are non discriminatory; they may have a dramatic effect on the tumor, but also on  the normal cells in the body which can cause serious and sometimes fatal side effects,” he says. Now, drugs are specific to the tumors they’re targeting, resulting in less damage to the overall body.

Same goes on the radiation side, he says. Take prostate cancer: Formerly, when radiation oncologists directed doses of treatment to a prostate tumor, healthy tissues were dosed too, like the bladder, rectum and hip bones. “With modern technology — whether it’s proton therapy or our latest image-guided radiation techniques — we do a much better job of just treating the tissues that need to have radiation, and sparing the normal tissues,” Dr. Khuntia notes. The result? Better outcomes and higher quality of life after treatment.

On the horizon, Dr. Khuntia says, is an extension of immunotherapy, whereby radiation is used to help stimulate the immune system. There has been a dramatic rise in the use of immunotherapy drugs, and there is now a growing body of evidence that suggests that radiation can help stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer and may also synergize with these new immunotherapeutic drugs. “We’re looking at ways that we can bring this to patients all over the world — that’s something we’re very excited about.”

3. Tech is getting the job done

Varian is  one of the leading pioneers in new cancer technology that’s aiming to improve clinical decision making, employ advanced informatics and deliver treatment in an intelligent way.

With research rapidly progressing, it’s a struggle for doctors to keep up with the latest findings. Thus, in the future, software that uses artificial intelligence will need to step in to help fill those knowledge gaps, Dr. Khuntia says. “Some of the latest software innovations have shown that two-thirds of the time, these systems can do a better job generating treatment plans in radiation compared to  humans alone — and they can do it in a fraction of the time.  Innovations like this will allow best-in-class treatments that are scalable anywhere in the world.”

On the radiation oncology front, Varian continues working to further elevate the precision  of tools like intensity-modulated X-ray, proton therapy and cutting edge stereotactic radiosurgery. “These are all ways of attacking tumors with sophisticated radiation technology while minimizing the impact on surrounding healthy tissues,” says Kennedy, adding that an increased understanding of individual patient genomics will work in tandem with these technology advancements  to provide the ultimate in multi-modality precision medicine paradigms.

Want additional insight on what the next 30 years of cancer care might look like? Varian welcomes you to read more about these efforts in its vision paper, “The Future of Cancer

Care: Moving From Promise to Reality.” Check it out here: www.varian.com/vision