Top Clinical Cancer Advances 2021 (During a Pandemic)

Most people know me as a fierce advocate of evidence-based integrative oncology and lifestyle medicine to prevent cancer, support those living with disease, and to help ensure deep and durable long-term remissions.

However, conventional cancer care is the cornerstone of integrative oncology… and I am of no clique or party. Without the best of modern conventional care, integrative oncology approaches—steeped in lifestyle modifications—would not be complete. Conventional care and integrative oncology approaches are not mutually exclusive, because integrative oncology is not alternative cancer care.

I carefully follow technological and therapeutic advances in conventional oncology. Staying on top of the science—including being current with the drug pipeline—and identifying appropriate clinical trials, experimental therapies, and/or compassionate use exceptions, is foundational to the comprehensive approaches I advocate when I coach. Sound guidance based on current knowledge from trusted sources is as important as an accurate diagnosis.

I’ve written a lot on the host environment: the person ‘hosting’ a malignancy—and how conventional oncology has a laser-like focus on the tumor a person has, as opposed to the type of person hosting that tumor.

The position I posit is simple: intensive focus on the host environment is as important as actual clinical care and therapeutics.

There is little doubt a robust host environment increases quality of life. The host environment can negatively or positively impact: treatment tolerance; progression-free-survival (post treatment or remission); and overall survival. Therefore, it is essential to examine, and alter if necessary, the physical, emotional, psychological, nutritional, aerobic, sleep, and support status of the host—the individual challenged by cancer.

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With today’s conventional oncology efforts, we still often see extensions of overall survival measured in mere months, not years—and at increasingly exorbitant costs. Too many patients experience deleterious side effects from treatment, requiring yet additional layers of drugs. Months, not years… that can feel like modest, incremental progress, but the fact is, remarkable progress is being made in the so-called fight against cancer (I hate that metaphor).

Unless you are a cancer science nerd like me, you may not be following the evolution afoot, and how current efforts may positively affect a specific type of malignancy that personally impacts a loved one, or friend.

I am a realist. We may never categorically outsmart cancer to the point that we have deep and durable so-called ‘cures’ (another term I mostly find unhelpful) across many types of advanced cancer.

Put another way: collectively, our society is deeply attached to discovery of a ‘cure’ when, clearly, prevention is sensible, proven, and cost-effective approach. Innovation and healing does not only exist in the lab where medications are created; it takes place at the kitchen counter, in the gym, at a filtered water tap, and in your bed during deep REM sleep.

Innovation toward less cancer must leverage all appropriate tools and technologies—both high tech (novel drug discovery, diagnostics) and low tech (all things lifestyle and environment).

People may be living longer with certain cancers, but more people are being diagnosed, because causation is not adequately and consistently addressed for lifestyle-triggered malignancies that are often preventable—think: prostate and colorectal.   

ASCO Releases Report on Top Clinical Cancer Developments

Modern cancer therapies, diagnostics and technologies are vital to treating malignancy. True innovation is happening, even during a global pandemic.

The folks at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), the largest and most influential global professional cancer organization, have released “Clinical Cancer Advances 2021: ASCO’s Report on Progress Against Cancer”, published in their Journal of Clinical Oncology.

A twenty-six-member editorial board of experts, with subspecialties in a range of cancer types, reviewed scientific literature published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at major medical conferences from October 2019 thru September 2020. They selected advances that improve meaningful patient outcomes and have a strong scientific impact.

(Important to note, in 2017 ASCO endorsed the Society for Integrative Oncology’s Guidelines for Integrative Therapies During and After Breast Cancer Treatment.)

I encourage you to take a look at specific sections of this important paper that are most relevant to your work or personal connection to cancer. Here are some highlights from the last year:

Advance of the Year

Molecular Profiling Drives Progress in GI Cancers

Additional Major Advances

Progress in Bringing Targeted Therapies to Patients with Earlier Stage Disease

Biomarker-Driven Treatment Approaches that Offer More Personalized Care for Lung, Colorectal, and Gastric Cancer

Combination Therapies that Extend Survival without Increasing Toxicity

Growing Number of Targeted Therapies are Offering Extended Survival for More Patients with Difficult-to-Treat Cancers

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Additional Major Publications

Aspirin Linked to Long-Term Reduction in Cancer Risk in Patients with Hereditary Cancer Predisposition

Immunotherapy Before Surgery May Improve Prognosis of Early-Stage Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

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Chemo-Free Combination Therapy for Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

First New Treatment for Hepatocellular Carcinoma Approved in 10 Years

Post-Surgery Targeted Therapy Doubles Disease-Free Survival in Early, EGFR-Positive Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

PARP Inhibitor Doubles Progression-Free Survival for Men with Hormone Therapy-Resistant Prostate Cancer

CAR-T Cell Treatment Improves Survival for Majority of Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Mantle Cell Lymphomas, Established as New Treatment Option

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Conventional cancer care is rapidly becoming more personalized and targeted in its approach. When personalization is also brought to bear in addressing one’s underlying host environment, focused on resiliency, immune function, and quality of life, we create a future for cancer care (and prevention) that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

We should all be grateful to the expert ASCO committee for bringing this high quality publication to the public and oncology community at large.  Without tireless, courageous, and curious investigators (and their teams) doing the science that underpins this report, the human condition would be far worse off in the context of malignant disease.