India is taking the fight against cancer head-on with rigorous research and development combined with better understanding of cancer and implementation of modern technology. Over the last decade, this revolution has seen a number of drastic breakthroughs emanating from the country. These advances have placed India at the helm of the fight against cancer globally.
Traditionally, patients looking for effective treatment had three options to choose from. These three options (namely: Surgery, Radiation and Chemotherapy) were referred to as the three pillars of modern cancer treatment. The emergence of Biological Therapy or Immunotherapy has given rise to the fourth and newest pillar of cancer therapy. Immunotherapy has been clinically proven to be a widely accepted treatment against cancer and over the years has produced remarkable results among cancer patients.
This article covers Adoptive Immunotherapy among other advances in the field of cancer care and how the advances are changing the landscape for improved patient care in India.
The fourth pillar of cancer therapy: Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy or biologic therapy that uses the body’s natural immune system to kill cancer cells. This is achieved by the immune system producing antibodies against tumour cells. "Now, immunotherapy is showing better results than chemotherapy. That is going to come in a very big way in the near future," reports Millennium Cancer Center, in the capital New Delhi.
Immunotherapy includes treatments like monoclonal antibodies (immune system protein antibodies specific to the target on cancer cells), antiangiogenic drugs, immune modulating agents and immune and checkpoint inhibitors. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have started being used in select hospitals in India.
Advances in Radiation Therapy
With increasing technological advancements, many new developments have taken place in the field of radiation therapy, in the form of 3D conformal radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and brachytherapy. Director of Surgical Oncology at Dharamshila Cancer Hospital – Dr Anshuman Kumar reports: “Head and Neck cancers are among the top list of cancer burdens seen today. Because of high volume of head and neck cancers, understanding the cancer biology has become better over time.”
He goes on to add: “these advancements in radiotherapy have allowed cancer specialists to push the cure rate over our previous milestone. Now thanks to good quality microvascular reconstructive surgeries and effective rehabilitation programmes, postoperatively patients have a better quality of life.” These advances have become enablers for cancer specialists around the country to destroy cancerous cells with minimal damage to normal and healthy tissues around.
Advancements in Genomics
Genomics or Gene Sequencing is still at a very nascent stage in India and is done at very few centres and by a handful of oncologists. The purpose of Gene Sequencing is to detect specific changes in DNA that may predispose a person to cancer. During genome sequence testing, the sample tissues are collected through a biopsy or after surgery or a liquid biopsy by using Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) test methods.
Oncologists test the tissues samples for any of the four classes of clinically targeted gene alterations: Base Substitution, Insertion or Deletion, Copy Number Alterations and Rearrangements. The Millennium Cancer Center reports: “We perform Gene sequencing on a number of our patients in order to plan further treatment based on the mutation / alteration the concerned patient is carrying.
Progression Towards Quality Centric Care
In the last decade, there has been a growing trend of hospitals expanding their network to offer greater access to quality cancer care. Co-founder of Vaidam Health India Pankaj Chandna states: “The rise in medical travellers to India is driven by better outcomes due to advancement in technology and sensible costs. Over the years, Vaidam has helped people from all parts of the globe at its partner medical centres; these include cutting edge medical centres like Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital - Mumbai, Medanta Hospital - Gurugram, Max Hospital - New Delhi, Fortis Memorial Research Institute - Gurugram, Apollo Hospital - Chennai, Millennium Cancer Centre - New Delhi, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital - New Delhi and more.”
A majority of these hospitals are based in Mumbai (economic capital) and New Delhi NCR (political capital). These hospitals are recognised by global accreditation authorities like the Joint Commission International (JCI) in a continuous effort to offer improved patient centric care.
It is without a doubt that India will be at the forefront of cancer treatment worldwide. This is clearly evident by the pace at which it has kept up with the latest advancements in healthcare, coupled by the careful application of advanced cancer treatments. The hospitals themselves, have in a sense become sanctuaries for medical travellers’ worldwide, and will continue to do so in the years to come.
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