Ongoing Cancer Symptoms Research

This article provides a brief overview of cancer research with some mention of ongoing developments.  It is more important to understand how to access a cancer research system and what questions to ask than trying to study it on your own.  Highly specialized physicians and research scientists may spend their entire career studying one cancer and still not have a full mastery of it.  The idea of doing a “google search” and teaching yourself about breast cancer may be somewhat helpful but will more likely provide inadequate or misleading information.

At any given point there are literally thousands of research project about cancer going on.  The amount of research information generated about cancer is staggering and it would literally be impossible for any single scientist, physician or cancer researcher to keep up with it all.  For example, scientific and medical research studies are published in peer-reviewed respectable journals that are tracked via the international service known as medline or pubmed.  The link to this service is  For someone to call themselves a cancer expert or researcher they have to have published studies in this database.  You can search by author name, topic of study, or any host of variables.  A search for the term “cancer” that is limited to the previous 60 days revealed 12,822 unique published papers.

In order to stay fully “up to date” with cancer research one would have to read about 200 studies per day, and not just read them but evaluate the quality of the research and decide how this information fits into what is already known and if it changes things in future cancer treatment.  This of course is an impossible and impractical task.  Given the explosion of cancer study and research, how is a physician that specializes in treating cancer supposed to know what to do?  What is the best treatment for your breast cancer?  These are difficult questions.

Fortunately, several organizations publish guidelines and recommended treatment strategies based upon the best available evidence at the time of publication. These guidelines are not “laws” but represent consensus opinions about certain cancer treatment strategies.  There are plenty of reasons in specific patient circumstances to not follow these but it at least provides a reasonable and up to date path to guide the treatment of most patients.  An example of one of these organizations is the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).  The NCCN updates cancer specific guidelines every few years.  It is useful to discuss this with your oncologist or surgeon to see what their opinion of these guidelines is and how they might apply to your situation.  Many patients with cancer go to the cancer specialists’ office armed with much information from their own “research” on the internet that makes discussion of treatment difficult because the average person cannot discriminate between quality information and marketing propaganda.  It is even difficult for some physicians or research scientists to navigate through the ever increasing complexity of staging manuals and guidelines.

This is why treatment in a protocol or at a cancer specialty center is important because it brings an organized approach and pools the resources of several specialty physicians together to help organize your care.

An exciting area of research in many different kinds of cancer is monoclonal antibody treatments.  Antibodies are normally used by the body to target foreign invaders such as bacteria and organize the immune system to kill these before they can create disease.  Designer antibodies have been produced to target specialized cancer cells with some great successes. One of the most notable successes has been in the treatment of breast cancer with the monoclonal antibody Trastuzumab.  Another known as Lapatinib has also had remarkable success.  These antibodies target breast cancer with the HER2 protein.  Older types of cancer treatments such as 5FU or radiation therapy would less selectively “wipe out” many types of cells in the hopes of also killing cancer cells.There have also been exciting developments in the availability of oral medications that were only previously available in the intravenous form.  These types of medicines provide great advantage from ease of administration and more comfort to the person with cancer.  Example of some these medications include capecitabine that helps in the treatment of colon and breast cancer.  There have been recent advances in the treatment of severe symptoms such as nausea with newer antiemetic such as ondansetron and granisetron.

A less thought of but equally important area of cancer research is the development of tools to assess the social and psychological impact of cancer.  Depression and anxiety can be quite severe and even disabling with many types of cancer treatment.  Just the word cancer often provokes significant anxiety in many people.  Often cancer treatment and the process of diagnosis is both tedious and filled with uncertainty.  It is difficult to predict how many cancers will respond to a given treatment and not very comforting to hear that 75% of people live more than 5 years with your type of cancer.  That may be more comforting than hearing say 25% but it still creates an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future that is unsettling.

An important part of taking advantage of clinical trials is to be aware of what resources are available to you.  Your first point of contact about these should be your doctor.  Even if your doctor does not participate in clinical trials he or she should be able to get you in contact with a center in your area of the country that does.  For some types of cancer, participating in a clinical trial is not as important.  For example, a very small stage I breast lump can almost always be cured by any physician that is competent in the treatment of breast cancer and does usually require the full force of a specialized cancer system.

On the other hand, it may be interesting to inquire to see if your doctor does not offer the full range of treatment options that may be available at a larger cancer center.  A good question to ask would be to have your doctor describe all of the possible treatment options for this cancer and whether or not any of these he or she does not offer and why.  For example, there are some breast cancer specialists that routinely use rarer techniques such as ductoscopy or intra-operative breast irradiation while others see these as unnecessary and without convincing data to support their routine use.


  4. This article was originally published on September 3, 2012 and last revision and update was 9/4/2015.