Living With Cancer: A Journey That Makes You Stronger,
this day-long conclave was aired on TOI’s FB platform on 5th June. It included multiple sessions on a wide range of topics starting from the latest advancements in cancer treatment, the importance of supportive and palliative care, mental health and journey of survivors, and more such insightful topics.
Over the last few decades, research and innovation in the field of oncology and biotechnology have changed the entire landscape of cancer treatment, improving outcomes, increasing the life expectancy of survivors and enhancing the quality of their lives. However, it doesn’t need to be reiterated that despite better treatment facilities, cancer survivors and their families have to fight another battle apart from the physical and emotional ones—that of affordability. In order to shed light on the major breakthroughs in the field of cancer research and find out if they can bring down the cost of treatment, TOI Medithon’s Cancer Survivors Day summit had a session titled
Cancer Research in India: Can Innovation Make Treatment More Affordable?
Watch the full session here.
For the session, there was a panel of illustrious experts including Dr. SH Advani, Director, Department of Medical Oncology, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Dr. Vijay Haribhakti, Director/HOD, Oncology, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital and Dr. Sudeep Gupta, Professor of Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital.
Fifty years back, treatment of cancer was very rudimentary and it was accessible to only a limited few. However, with innumerable inventions in all the fields of oncology, curing cancer has become a lot easier now.Talking about the major developments in the arena of medical oncology, Dr. Advani says, “Since the year 2000, changes in the field of cancer treatment are taking after every 6 months. Now, we have more information on the biology of the disease, better chemotherapy agents and targeted chemotherapy, which yields best results with minimum toxicity.” Another new addition to this domain is immunotherapy. “Here, the target is to get the tumour killed by the patient’s immune cells. With all these advancements, the success rate of cancer treatment has become high. Today, we can say that 80 per cent of childhood cancers is curable. Unlike before, lung cancer patients are now surviving beyond 5 years, thanks to the availability of improved options,” he adds.
Sharing his thoughts on the major breakthroughs in surgical oncology, Dr. Haribhakti says, “Over the last few decades, we have shifted towards minimally invasive surgeries and developments in reconstruction surgery has given a better life to people living with cancer.” According to him, robotics and laparoscopy have also significantly evolved the treatment of many cancers. “With the use of robotics and staplers, we are now able to operate on very low tumours of the rectum and restore the patient’s normal foecal passage, which was not possible to envisage before.”
Apart from robotics, there is another technology that promises to revolutionise medical treatment in general, including that of cancer. It is artificial intelligence (AI). “We are just beginning to see the results of the first wave and generation of AI technology in cancer. Human expertise is being replaced in the so-called mundane tasks such as reading mammograms and routine reading of pathology slides by AI at the first level.However, the final diagnosis is made by a human expert,” says Dr. Gupta. “AI can also generate the real-world evidence of which treatment benefited the patients the most,” he added.
While new medical inventions are a boon to patients and doctors alike, the flip side is, with each fresh development, the cost of treatment goes up. “Whether we like it or not, the cost really goes up in cases of advanced treatment forms and we can’t really shy away from them as they result in better outcomes, assure shorter hospital stays and improve the overall quality of life. If there is a cost-effective way of controlling cancer, it is through early diagnosis,” says Dr. Haribhakti. Sharing similar views, Dr. Gupta says, “On an average, the cost of cancer treatment has increased. When a patient has an already established cancer in stage II and III or IV, he has to go through many advanced imaging diagnostic tests and resort to an array of targeted therapies. Many of them are quite expensive and some are on patent. However, the cost has gone down in early-stage cancers where one needs less intensive chemotherapy because the tumour has been classified better.”
Dr. Advani, however, believes that India has improved remarkably in terms of cancer treatment delivery at a reasonable price. “Today, cancers like Hodgkin’s disease and acute lymphocytic leukemia can be treated at a reasonable rate, cheaper than Tuberculosis treatment,” he says.
There is no denying that curing cancer is a challenging task. However, sophisticated technology and advanced options have made the treatment of this condition more effective. But the bigger challenge is to make them available and affordable for a larger mass.