Advances, Breakthroughs, and Innovations in Cancer Treatment

Innovations and advances in cancer treatment.

For hundreds of years, scientists and researchers have been on the hunt for a cancer cure, making astounding advances in treatment along the way. Expanded clinical trials have helped researchers explore the potential of precision medicine and develop alternatives to chemotherapy for cancer patients.

To learn more about advances in cancer treatment, check out the infographic below, created by Maryville University’s online Master of Health Administration.

Clinical Trial Improvements

Clinical trials are conducted to observe the effects and results of a newly developed drug, surgical procedure, or behavioral intervention.

History of Modern Clinical Trials

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act into law, prohibiting the sale of products for uses outside of their labeling. Decades later, in 1962, the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendment required drug manufacturers to provide proof of effectiveness of drugs prior to approval and to disclose accurate information about potential side effects.

In 1944, multicenter studies emerged, allowing a larger number of participants and a wider range of population groups to be studied; this helped to strengthen research trial designs and analyses. Thirty years later, President Richard Nixon signed the National Research Act into law, requiring an institutional review board to review all research involving human subjects.

The Nuremberg Code, in 1947, established requirements for clinical trials to include informed consent, absence of coercion, properly formulated scientific experimentation, and goodwill toward experiment participants. In 1964 the Declaration of Helsinki expanded on the 10 principles for ethical human experimentation in the Nuremberg Code to include respect for the participant, the participant’s right to self-determination, and the participant’s right to make informed decisions about research participation.

In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a guidance document that broadened cancer clinical trial eligibility criteria to include more older adults. Two years later, the director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence issued a statement saying the FDA believes that patients with incurable cancers should be eligible to participate in oncology clinical trials.

Advances in Cancer Treatment

Historically, cancer patients have been treated with traditional surgery methods or chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Today, cancer patients can access various advanced treatments — thanks to discoveries made through experiments and clinical trials.

Recent Breakthroughs in Alternative Cancer Treatment

Immunotherapy is a biological therapy that uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer. Types of immunotherapy include immune checkpoint inhibitors, T-cell transfer therapy, monoclonal antibodies, treatment vaccines, and immune system modulators. Immunotherapy precisely targets cancer cells while protecting healthy cells from damage and draws on the power of the immune system. However, it can cause reactions such as fever, chills, weight gain, and heart palpitations.

Photodynamic therapy uses light to activate drugs that destroy cancer cells. Compared with other cancer treatments, photodynamic therapy avoids extensive damage to healthy cells and is a good option for patients with skin cancers and precancers. However, this treatment can potentially harm normal cells, cause temporary light sensitivity, and lead to other side effects, including difficulty swallowing, stomach pain, shortness of breath, and skin problems.

Another alternative cancer treatment is hyperthermia/laser therapy, which uses light to heat and destroy small tumors and precancerous cells. This type of treatment avoids damage to surrounding tissues, requires less time than surgery, and reduces side effects such as bleeding, pain, infections, and scarring. However, it may cause health risks if safety precautions aren’t followed.

Targeted therapy administers precision medicine that involves small molecule drugs that can easily enter cells or monoclonal antibodies that cling to specific areas on cancer cells. It has the ability to attack cancer cells without damaging healthy cells, but it can also cause blood clotting, blood pressure, fatigue, and skin issues.

Radiation therapy, unlike targeted therapy, uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors, and ease symptoms. It may be performed with other cancer treatments, and it may help treat symptoms caused by cancer. However, it can also cause damage to healthy cells.

Hormone therapy is another cancer treatment that blocks the growth of hormones that contribute to the spread of cancer. It involves oral medications that can be taken at home, but it can cause some serious side effects.

Precision Medicine’s Promise

Precision medicine, also called personalized medicine, is a treatment approach that considers the effects of gene mutations on a person’s risk of developing cancer or responding to cancer treatment.

What Patients Need to Know About Precision Medicine

Precision medicine may be used to identify patients at high risk of cancer, prevent some forms of cancer, identify some cancers in the early stage, provide a diagnosis, identify the best treatment options for patients, and evaluate the effects of treatment.

Cancers commonly treated with precision medicine include colorectal cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer, and certain types of leukemia and lymphoma.

Patients should understand that more research is necessary to realize the full potential of precision medicine in treating cancer and that, unfortunately, there is limited opportunity for patients to participate in a clinical trial. The high cost of gene testing, a lack of family genetic testing data, and inadequate genetic testing results can also limit the potential of precision medicine.

The Future of Cancer Treatment

Advancements in cancer treatment have brought hope and healing to many cancer patients. Future developments will require the guidance of strong healthcare leaders to ensure a high standard of ethics and quality in clinical trials.


AARP, “5 Things That Will Change Cancer Care in the Next Decade”

American Cancer Society, “Precision or Personalized Medicine”

Johns Hopkins Medicine, “The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks”

MassDevice, “The History of Clinical Research”

Medical News Today, “5 Alternatives to Chemotherapy”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Evolution of Clinical Research: A History Before and Beyond James Lind”

National Cancer Institute, “Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer”

National Cancer Institute, “Clinical Trials: Bringing Cancer Research to All Possible Participants”

National Cancer Institute, “Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer”

National Cancer Institute, “Radiation Therapy to Treat Cancer”

National Institute on Aging, “What Are Clinical Trials and Studies?”

National Library of Medicine, “Commentary: The 1944 Patulin Trial: The First Properly Controlled Multicentre Trial Conducted Under the Aegis of the British Medical Research Council”

RAPS, “FDA Calls for Inclusion of Patients with Incurable Cancers in Oncology Trials”

U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Pure Food and Drugs”

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