Approximately 39.5% of Americans will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. The yearly rate of new cancer diagnoses is 442.4 per 100,000 men and women in the United States. In 2018 alone, there were 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.5 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. Due to the prevalence of cancer, it’s unsurprising that it is the leading cause of death worldwide and the second leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease.
The high death toll of cancer is enough to make the diagnosis terrifying; however, the treatment options can also be nerve-wracking. A common therapy that most people are familiar with is chemotherapy, as it is the standard of care for cancer treatment. Though it can kill cancerous cells and eliminate cancer in the body, it also has negative side effects to consider when choosing it as a potential treatment.
The drugs used in chemotherapy are effective at killing cancerous cells because they are cell poisons that are only slightly more deadly to cancer cells than normal cells. Slightly more poisonous is an important distinction for those undergoing chemotherapy, as normal cells can still be affected by the medications due to their cytotoxic nature and lack of specificity. Adverse side effects of chemotherapy medications include:
- Severe nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- White blood cell loss and weakened immune system
- Appetite changes
- Throat, mouth, and tongue problems like sores and painful swallowing
- Urine and bladder changes, along with kidney problems
- Peripheral neuropathy or other nerve issues
- Affects concentration and focus
- Fertility problems and pregnancy/fetal damage or loss
Though chemotherapy is an effective cancer treatment, it is not uncommon for cancer patients to forgo it because of its debilitating effects. These negative effects are one of the driving forces for researchers seeking to develop alternative cancer treatments.
Recombinant Protein Advancements
Recombinant protein treatment is being studied with the hopes that it can kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. Recombinant proteins have specific targeting sequences that aid proteins in administering toxins directly to cancerous cells and sparing healthy cells. Since they are synthesized from identical DNA sequences, it is theorized that the protein polymers will have the same amino acid sequence and properties without significant batch variation, so the molecular weight and structure of the target protein can be controlled. If successful, this option will provide cancer treatment without the negative effects of chemotherapy because it will have greater specificity to targeted cancer cells instead of being toxic to healthy cells.