A novel therapy is in early trials aimed at bring a form of leukemia under control by trying to fix the damage done by cancer, rather than writing off the cancerous cells and trying to eradicate them:
The breakthrough is notable in part for the unconventional manner in which the drug attacks its target. There are many kinds of cancer, but treatments have typically combatted them in one way only: by attempting to destroy the cancerous cells. Surgery aims to remove the entire growth from the body; chemotherapy drugs are toxic to the cancer cells; radiation generates toxic molecules that break up the cancer cells’ DNA and proteins, causing their demise. A more recent approach, immunotherapy, coopts the body’s immune system into attacking and eradicating the tumor.
The Agios drug, instead of killing the leukemic cells—immature blood cells gone haywire—coaxes them into maturing into functioning blood cells. Cancerous cells traditionally have been viewed as a lost cause, fit only for destruction. The emerging research on A.M.L. suggests that at least some cancer cells might be redeemable: they still carry their original programming and can be pressed back onto a pathway to health.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s yielded promising results so far. It remains to be seen if this would be an effective therapy for other sorts of cancer. According to the article, the standard treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia is a combination of two drugs: cytarabine (which is neurotoxic) and either daunorubicin or doxorubicin (both of which are cardiotoxic). The first round of Tabitha’s chemotherapy for metastatic uterine leiomyosarcoma included doxorubicin. Looking back, it appeared to have the most positive effect at rolling back the damage done by cancer, but her heart never worked quite the same afterward. Her resting pulse rate was closer to most people’s pulse rate while doing moderately vigorous exercise, and as time went on, it kept going up until it was about where mine is when I’m out for a run.