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 Key elements of cancer research

Cancer research involves several disciplines: scientists, physicians, epidemiologists, and experts in the humanities, social sciences, and public health. All these actors work together to develop knowledge about cancer and methods for its prevention, detection, and treatment.

What is the goal of cancer research?

Key elements of cancer research

Research works to fight cancer at all levels: prevention of risk factors, screening and early detection, treatments, a better understanding of the mechanisms and biology of tumors, etc. Every day, researchers develop new knowledge and new ways to fight cancer.

Research can be "basic" and carried out in the laboratory: studies of the genome of tumors, understanding of cancer mechanisms, etc. It can also be clinical, especially in the field of cancer. It can also be clinical, especially with the significant increase in clinical trials being conducted to give patients access to promising new molecules to fight their tumors. Another area of research, known as translational research, aims to accelerate the transfer of knowledge, tests, and treatments from the laboratory to the patient's bedside.

Finally, research can be conducted on the population of one or more countries to better understand their cancer situation. A branch of research known as "intervention research", which has developed in recent years, thus builds on what already exists to evaluate and improve existing measures to combat cancer. It involves both researchers and industry stakeholders (health professionals, associations, politicians, etc.).

Is the investigation really moving forward?

Yes, research has come a long way in the last ten years.

In terms of prevention, vaccines are now available against certain viruses known to cause cancer in the long term: papillomavirus and hepatitis B virus. Researchers are also working on developing "therapeutic" vaccines aimed at curing cancer or preventing new cases.

In terms of screening, computer and 3D modeling and the development of imaging techniques such as MRI allow radiologists to better examine organs from all angles, detecting previously undetectable and very small tumors. Bioinformaticians and biomathematicians are working with scientists to constantly improve the sensitivity and reliability of the machines.

In particular, research has made it possible to combine better treatments (e.g. the use of radiotherapy during an operation), to provide more precise radiotherapy to spare neighboring organs as far as possible and thus limit the side-effects of treatment, and to develop fewer amputating surgical techniques (laparoscopy, sentinel nodes, etc.).

In addition to advances in diagnostic and monitoring techniques, progress is also being made in pharmacological treatments adapted to each type of cancer. This is called precision medicine (or "personalized" medicine). The aim is twofold: to increase effectiveness and minimize side effects.

Molecular biology has made it possible to identify the genetic defects present in certain tumors. This has led to the development of molecules that act directly on these abnormalities: targeted therapies. They are more effective and have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy and allow treatment to be tailored to each patient based on the characteristics of the tumor. However, they cannot yet cure all cancers: there are currently around 50 molecules available for targeted therapy and almost 500 in development.

Why does it take so long between scientific discovery and its application?

Until recently, it took 20-30 years for a laboratory discovery to become a new treatment. Today, these times have been reduced to 10-15 years.

Although it may seem long, it contains important steps:
  • Laboratory validation of the idea, identification of an active and stable chemical entity.
  • Evaluation of efficacy and toxicity in animals.
  • Evaluation of the treatment in collaboration with patients to determine the dose, confirm its efficacy and compare the new treatment on a large scale and over a long period with standard treatment: this is the clinical trial phase,
  • Approval of the treatment by the health authorities.
Therefore, before a new treatment is offered to thousands of patients, it is necessary to make sure that it is effective and well-tolerated, or at least that the risk-benefit ratio is favorable to the patient.

Today, the emphasis is on speeding up procedures at all stages so that researchers can carry out their work even faster.


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