Modern cancer treatments make patients unable to enjoy their lives; a new approach to treatment could change that.

by Erin Spaulding

Cancer is a heartbreaking disease that evokes sadness, pain, and suffering; but I never thought it would cause anger. But the day my Popop, Jim Spaulding, decided to stop his treatment was the angriest I’ve ever felt in my life. My head was spinning as I failed to understand his reasoning, was he just giving up? This question occupied my thoughts for weeks until I saw him truly smile for the first time in months. As my anger subsided I realized why he made this life-changing decision; he wasn’t happy and he wasn’t living.

The chemotherapy and radiation treatment he was receiving was killing him from the inside out, both emotionally and physically. On the emotional spectrum, he was too tired to attend family events and couldn’t work or invent new things in his basement workshop. Physically it was almost worse, his once large and huggable frame turned into a frail, almost delicate body type. His laugh and voice were also taken from him and reduced to a small whisper. My Popop, like many other cancer patients, chose to stop treatment so he could live the rest of his days in a happy, coherent environment. Jim Spaulding passed away on September 9th, 2020 after a long fight with cancer.

The lack of non-harmful cancer treatments is a global issue that affects millions of patients in addition to their friends and families. In 2020 alone there were over 1.8 million new cancer diagnoses, and the number of deaths caused by cancer, in the same year, totaled over half a million people (1). Currently, there are no common cancer treatments that are non-harmful to patients’ healthy cells. People of all ages, races, sexes, and socioeconomic levels receive different types of treatments based on the type of cancer each individual has (2). The three most common types of cancer treatments are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (2). Surgery is used to treat cancer in a multitude of ways, it can be used in one location to remove a singular tumor, remove large amounts of cancerous cells without removing them all, to treat symptoms caused by cancer, and as a way of placing medical devices inside the body (3). While this method has proved effective in the early stages of cancer, it has many harmful and dangerous side effects including blood clots, damage to nearby tissues and organs, increased risk of infections such as pneumonia, and high levels of pain (4). Radiation is another form of targeted-cancer treatment, similar to surgery. Using high-powered rays of energy, radiation destroys and damages cancer cells so they can no longer divide and reproduce (5). This type of treatment has both short-term side effects including fatigue and hair loss in addition to long-term effects such as seizures, vomiting, and fertility problems depending on where the treatment is being received (6).

Chemotherapy is not a targeted treatment like surgery and radiation, rather it involves drugs being used to kill cancer cells throughout the body (7). The main side effect of chemotherapy is that healthy cells including bone marrow cells, hair follicles, and cells in the digestive and reproductive systems can be damaged and even killed (7). In addition, a patient may have an increased risk of infection, fatigue, and mood changes (7). All three common cancer treatments cause severe and depressive symptoms, but new treatments are being researched to combat these terrible side effects.

Currently, the most popular idea for a newer form of cancer treatment is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, in reference to cancer, is a group of devices that attach specifically to cancerous cells (8). Smaller than a human cell, nanodevices are able to move through multiple areas in the body, and can “team-up” against cancer cells (8). The most common way of administering nanodevices is through simple chemotherapy: Patients take a pill encapsulating chemotherapy drugs and nanodevices (8). Once inside the body, the nanodevices guide the drugs to specific cancer cells, away from the healthy cells (8). Alternatively, without nanodevices, chemotherapy attacks all cells, not differentiating between a healthy and cancerous cell. The science behind this miracle treatment is relatively simple. Nanodevices search for specific indicators that demonstrate if a cell is cancerous or not, these factors are mostly complicated biological processes including lymphatic drainage, and increased vascular permeability (8). This is known as the enhanced permeability and retention effect or EPR for short (8). Overall, nanotechnology is the new frontier of non-invasive cancer treatment and can help millions of patients feel healthy and happy.

Those of us without PhDs might feel powerless when it comes to aiding in the fight against cancer. However, this is not the case. The most beneficial effort you can make is to educate and support your friends and family members affected by cancer. This includes researching trials of new drugs including nanotechnology, providing support for those in treatment, and helping to spread cancer treatment-related information. This alone is not enough. Organizations including The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute are trailblazers for cancer treatment research but often lack the funding needed to truly carry out their projects. Even small donations to organizations like these could help save lives today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

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