Authored by: Dr. Ashutosh Tiwari, Managing Director and Chairman, VBRI (Vinoba Bhave Research Institute)
As they say, “hope is the second strongest word, after love”. The recent cases of Bollywood actor Sonali Bendre and Imran Khan getting cured from the dreadful cancer inspire us to fight the battle strongly. The cases instill hope among us to think positively and to act in a cohesive manner to be able to be cured from cancer. This positive change in the mindset is actually more important than the advancements that medical technologies actually could make as people earlier used to take cancer as non-curable disease. But not anymore!
Start: In India, around 2.25 million people are living with cancer, a February Business Standard report reveals. Every year the situation worsens with the addition of around 1.15 million cases. Breast cancer is the most commonly found among women whereas lip, oral cavity cancers top the chart for men. Although, there are remarkable advancement happened on this in the past few years, yet, early diagnosis and management are the best bets against this dreadful disease. Changes have also come in the way cancer is now treated as well. A few years back, cancer patients were dependent on hospitals only for cancer-care treatment; today in-hospital care has changed to OPD care or day care in which patients only go to the hospital for chemotherapy sessions.
Home Healthcare is the next big leap in cancer care. Patients, who are on medical treatment, do not have to travel to a hospital for any procedure and all the treatment can be provided at home with the quality of hospital. The care of patients who require surgical management or radiotherapy has also revolutionized as most of the pre- and post-surgical care, hydration therapy and nutrition therapy are all available at home.
Liquid Biopsy: What’s in offing?
However, here, I want to focus on Liquid Biopsy. For years, cancer research has focused on cure and survival. And with continuous research and development, medical fraternity is talking much about Liquid Biopsy these days. A biopsy is a sample of tissue or cells taken from almost any part of the body and sent to a lab to check for cancer. The liquid in this case is your blood.
Liquid biopsies are the confirmatory test for cancer. Tissue from a tumour is collected and studied. In some cases, tissue biopsies are impossible due to the location of a tumour. The surgical procedure also involves high risks and cost. Here, this liquid biopsy test is a paradigm shift from conventional diagnostic tools, as it involves a minimally-invasive procedure, no radioactive scans, and can detect tumor DNA traces from a simple blood draw.
The biopsy technique helps to create personalized cancer treatment plans for each patient. It also tells if a patient is prone to a relapse and if a person is likely to respond to therapy or not. Certainly, this type of insights will help relevant stakeholders to determine measures to take in this dimension.
In a country like India, where it is economically not feasible for most to even afford basic radiation therapies, immunotherapy and precision drugs remain in the realm of science fiction. Rather than investing 99% in curing and 1% in prevention, making people aware of screening and early diagnosis has far more benefits.
Companies are working with strong motive to build mass healthcare infrastructure for the cancer detection and treatment at the early stage using doorstep technology. This smart healthcare system will be accessible to everyone without any financial, distance or language barrier. Mostly, four technologies, viz Internet of things, machine learning, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology could give us way to integrate all together.
Harvard researcher says that although it may sound improbable today, with enough data and research, we may be able to build AI that can not only predict the emergence of cancer, but also suggest the treatment the patient will best respond to, based on his unique genetic and molecular profile. Cancer then will no longer be a terminal illness but a disease we can simply live with.