Cancer research along with the development of new and improved treatments for cancer is an endeavor that the United States invests large amounts of manpower, time, and money towards. The development of drugs that may better assist in treating and curing cancers is especially essential. In the past, any type of drug used to treat cancer was labeled chemotherapy, but the term has taken on negative connotations. Physicians now typically consign the word chemotherapy to speak of drugs that target and destroy rapidly-dividing cells. Newly developed drugs that are used to strengthen the immune system or assist in other ways are referred to as medication therapy or drug therapy, among other terms.
Types of Cancer Drugs
General Chemotherapy Drugs
Chemotherapy drugs work to stop cancer cells from reproducing. There are different variations of chemotherapy drugs, and physicians look at individual sensitivities as well as the type and stage of cancer when deciding which type of chemotherapy to prescribe. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously or in pill form. Chemotherapy is often shunned by patients because of the perception of unknown side effects, destruction of healthy cells, and poor results.
Steroids may be used to combat side effects of other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Steroids are known to boost the appetite and reduce other side effects, such as nausea and pain. Steroids may also reduce swelling around the brain, relieve fluid in the lungs, and boost energy levels.
Bisphonates are drugs that help to strengthen bones and raise calcium levels. Bisphonates can also help alleviate pain and feelings of weakness in the bones. Bisphonates have been shown to reduce instances of cancer recurrence in some cases, especially breast cancer.
The introduction of certain types of hormones into the body can help quell the production of other hormones, which cancer cells need to survive and spread. These types of drugs are specific to men in cases of prostate cancer, and specific to women in cases of cervical cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and certain other types of cancer. Hormone therapies are highly individualized, and physicians take into consideration factors such as patient age and the ability or desire to have children.
Biological therapies, which are also called immunotherapy, utilize chemicals that are naturally produced by the body to combat cancer. Antibodies that are created by the body to destroy cancerous cells and block further growth may be helpful in fighting the cancer, and biological therapies can stimulate the production of these antibodies. Certain types of biological therapy may also introduce artificial versions of these antibodies into the body.
Approval Process for New Drug Development
Any new drugs that are developed with the purpose of treating cancer must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before a doctor can legally write a prescription for the drugs. Prior to official approval by the F.D.A., newly developed drugs may be obtained as part of clinical trials. Before participating in clinical trials, patients must understand that side effects and effectiveness of the drugs are not always known. When a drug has been tested through clinical trials, a company may send these results to the F.D.A., and the F.D.A. will review results and decide whether or not the drug has been researched enough and is safe enough to approve for general use.
Need for New Drug Development
The largest need for new drug development for the treatment of cancer arises in cases of children with cancer. Children respond differently than adults to cancer drugs and treatments, and in many cases the existing drugs may be harmful and ineffective. The types and sites of cancer in children can also vary drastically from those present in adults, and the research and drugs available for treatment are lacking in comparison to adult cancer drug development.
Reasons for Delays in Cancer Drug Development
One of the largest reasons for the delay in drug development for certain types of cancer is the lack of incentive for companies to create these drugs. Companies operate primarily with profits in mind, and certain areas, such as child cancer treatment are viewed as relatively small markets. Developing new drugs for treating cancer in children is also costly and time consuming, and many companies are not willing to devote the resources without being assured of the profitability. The FDA has recently made changes to laws surrounding research and development of certain cancer treatments, especially pediatric cancer treatment, to spur drug companies to prioritize this research.
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