The future of cancer care: Innovations and possibilities

Manita Nath
Cancer is spreading like wildfire and the cases are rising every year. The disease remains one of the major reasons for mortality worldwide, causing approximately 10 million deaths in 2020 alone. Among the various cancers, breast cancer tops the chart with 2.26 million cases and 685,000 deaths in 20201. Prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers account for nearly 43% of all cancers in men, while breast, lung, and colorectal account for almost 50% of all new cancer cases in women2. By 2040, the global burden is expected to rise to 27.5 million mainly due to population growth and ageing3.

However, over the past decade, due to technological innovations, we have seen unprecedented breakthroughs in cancer research. Today, more people with cancer are able to live longer than ever before. Smart investments in cancer care are urgently needed to improve access to treatment and upgrade healthcare systems to cope with the expected rise in disease burden.

In addition to the increased understanding of tumour biology, cancer researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) for the early diagnosis of cancer and the development of new cancer treatments. Scientists have developed AI tools that help in screening various kinds of cancer. Doctors use advanced imaging tests to gather critical information about cancer. This includes its rate of growth, spread, and relapse frequency. For example, deep-learning AI models can help doctors classify cancerous tissue and aid in the automation of several complex but essential tasks that help optimize treatment4. Since cancer is primarily a disease of the DNA, precision oncology is the best new weapon to defeat it. This involves examining the genetic makeup and molecular characteristics of tumours in individual patients. Innovative Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods are helping doctors study each patient’s genetic makeup to diagnose cancer, create a treatment plan, learn the status of the treatment, or make a prognosis.

Over the past decade, immunotherapy, which helps a patient fight cancer better, has also been deemed an important pillar of cancer treatment. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, a new form of immunotherapy, has proven to be a game changer in the treatment of blood cancers. Two of the first patients with leukemia who received (CAR) T cell treatment remained in remission for more than a decade5,6.

In addition, the adoption of several advanced tools such as liquid biopsy, cryo-electron microscopy, and robotic surgery may offer positive long-term outcomes for patients. Over the next few years, there will be a greater focus on technology and innovation to help oncologists make better treatment choices, recognize patients who can benefit from innovative testing or clinical trials, and opt for cost-effective care solutions.