Oncology has emerged from the days of limited options when a cancer diagnosis nearly always meant radiation and/or chemotherapy, with patients suffering both from the disease and from the toxic side-effects of treatment.
Currently a large arsenal of different treatment approaches exists that allows doctors to treat patients in the most appropriate way, depending on the characteristics of the disease.
This era of so-called personalised medicine strives to offer therapies that target aspects of the tumour and, in principle, should have less impact upon healthy tissue, less toxic effects. New therapy strategies are specific for the type and stage of the tumour and take into account prior treatments received by the patient.
However, a truly personalised cancer medicine for all forms of the disease is still elusive. Targeted agents (e.g. monoclonal antibodies and small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors) are improving cure rates for some types of cancer (e.g. colon, breast, lung and renal cancer), but development of these agents for some cancer types has progressed more slowly due to the biological complexity of the disease. Furthermore, existing treatment strategies need to be refined, as resistance to drugs continues to appear. The mandate for continued research is hindered by aspects ranging from research hurdles to economics. Although understanding of cancer biology has progressed rapidly, our knowledge is incomplete and instruments to facilitate this knowledge are still in development. Furthermore, existing targeted therapies are disproportionately available to patients throughout the countries of the European Union and in other continents.
Join ESMO, the European reference professional society of medical oncologists, in spreading a correct understanding of personalised medicine and in urging that the necessary actions be taken by the research and public policy communities to make personalised cancer treatment a reality to all cancer patients as soon as possible.