Every year, oncology research marches toward new, innovative treatments for patients with cancer. Cancer research is a cumulative process—building upon itself year after year—but, with time, major changes begin to make their way into practices across the country. Some of these advancements stand to change the face of cancer treatment for years to come. In a field of constant evolution, oncology nurses and their colleagues need to stay abreast of developments in science and technology as new knowledge is uncovered in the treatment of cancer.

In February 2017, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released its 12th Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer, highlighting notable areas of oncology advancement from 2016. The report outlined information about immunotherapy, cancer risk, screening, and prevention; new treatments beyond immunotherapy; advances in patient care; and tumor biology. Understanding the emerging details can help nurses prepare for potential future changes to practice.

Notable Advancements in Cancer Care

Immunotherapy has been making waves in oncology. With new drugs being approved at an accelerated pace, it’s becoming a viable line of treatment for many patients, including those who previously were thought to be out of options. Research is finding that checkpoint inhibitors are having success against multiple cancers. Yet, continued research is still needed to understand why immunotherapies work for some patients but not others.

  • Cancer risk, prevention, and screening research has uncovered a growing role for genetics in determining cancer risk. New genes are being linked to increased risk, and it’s helping to identify those who may need more frequent screening or preventative surgery. Research also found that vitamin B supplements may decrease skin cancer risk by activating the skin’s immune system.
  • Cancer treatments beyond immunotherapy have shown great strides in the past year as well. Targeted therapy advancements have been made in many different cancer sites, including acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-small cell lung cancer, multiple myeloma, breast cancer, renal cell, and ovarian cancer. Combination therapies have shown increased survival rates and decreased adverse effects, especially in glioma and neuroblastoma. Beyond that, longer hormone therapy maintenance periods are further reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
  • Advances in patient care were numerous, including new precision medicine tools like ONS’s Quality Clinical Data Registry and ASCO’s CancerLinQ, which are big-data initiatives to improve the quality of care for patients with cancer. Studies reported that navigation programs improved patient outcomes and quality of care, and a new antiemetic agent, olanzapine, showed positive results for preventing cancer-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) when combined with standard CINV agents.
  • Tumor biology research is expanding through precision medicine. Through molecular testing, new treatments are being offered to patients with advanced cancer that weren’t previously available. Scientists are also focusing on tumors that evade therapies and what can be done to address them.

The Potential of Oncology Research

For oncology research, the future holds many possibilities for advancement in treatment, care, and screening. In fact, scientists are currently working on liquid biopsies in which tumor DNA is extracted from bodily fluids. This would show information about the tumor makeup of the entire body, and it could even predict recurrence.

Generating new knowledge and innovative treatments is integral to the progression of cancer care. Initiatives like the National Cancer Moonshot and the work of the National Cancer Institute’s Blue Ribbon Panel are aiming to increase funding and resources to researchers, including oncology nurse scientists, throughout the country. It’s an exciting time for oncology as ground-breaking research and cancer care interventions are just around the corner.