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Advances in cancer treatment


New hope for patients of some common cancers

Thousands of cases of colorectal and breast cancer are diagnosed in South Africa every year, but advances in treatment have brought new hope. Professor Paul Ruff (MBBCh 1979, MMed 1986), head of medical oncology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Dr Georgia Demetriou (MBBCh 1995), of the Donald Gordon Medical Centre, gave the Faculty’s 15th Prestigious Research Lecture in June, outlining exciting advances that represent a significant improvement in patient outcomes.

“The treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer over the last 15 to 20 years has improved, making it a highly treatable and sometimes even a curable disease,” said Professor Ruff.

Recent evidence shows that various factors affect clinical outcome, such as the location of the tumour in the colon, and the patient’s genetic makeup. “A lot of research is currently being undertaken to examine the link between a patient’s physiology and their recovery outlook,” he said. 

Breast cancer is among the most common cancers in South Africa. “Between 15% and 20% cases of breast cancer are Her2-positive, an aggressive subtype of breast cancer with a higher risk of recurrence and metastatic spread to sites such as liver, lungs, bone and sometimes brain,” said Dr Demetriou. “The use of targeted ‘blockade’ drug therapy and, more recently, targeted dual drug therapy, has come a long way in identifying and blocking Her2-positive breast cancer.”

Professor Ruff and Dr Demetriou are confident that today’s treatment options improve survival rates and offer patients a much better quality of life.