Each March in the United States, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month highlights the quest to prevent, treat, and cure a disease that affects approximately one in 20 Americans. The good news is that aggressive and ever more creative research is reducing both the occurrence of colorectal cancer and its severity. UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center is at the center of some of the most promising research currently underway.
“Whether the focus is on a cure or on promoting quality of life, many of the breakthroughs in research are aimed at helping people live longer and be healthier as long as they live,” says UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center oncologist Sukeshi Arora, MD. “Part of that is simply making sure we have lots of options for preventing or treating cancer because each individual’s experience of cancer is personal and unique.”
Reducing the Risk
Two trials currently underway deal with the concept of chemoprevention, says Dr. Arora. Based on family history and genetic tests, such as those offered by the Cancer Genetics and High-Risk Screening Clinic, physicians identify patients most at risk for colorectal cancer. Researchers are then using low-dose chemotherapy to greatly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer or to prevent it altogether.
A growing body of study at UT Health San Antonio focuses on interventions that call on the body’s own defenses against cancer, immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves stimulating a patient’s immune system to respond to his or her cancer as it would to a viral or bacterial infection. Novel agents exploiting the immune systems show promising potential for colorectal cancer patients, according to Dr. Arora.
Another exciting field of colorectal cancer research where Dr. Arora devotes extensive study is an approach known as autophagy modulation. In normal cells, autophagy is a helpful process that prevents cell death. Sometimes, however, the same process can make cancer cells resistant to treatment. In her research, Dr. Arora is investigating new ways to modulate the process in cancer cells so that they are more responsive to cancer treatment.
“There are so many treatments and resources available these days,” Dr. Arora says. “If we have a chance to work in partnership with patients, great outcomes are possible.”
To learn more about colorectal cancer, or to schedule an appointment, visit UTHealthsaMDAnderson.org or call 210-450-1000.