Recent advances in systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, have made radiation oncology even more vital.
“As systemic therapy has become more effective, we have played an increasingly important role,” says Dr. Kased. “In the past, when systemic therapy was less effective, patients had cancer everywhere and local treatments were less important. Now, a patient might have only one or two areas in their body that aren’t responding to the systemic therapy, and we can eradicate those bad actors.”
Radiation therapy has also been shown to support immunotherapy. As radiation kills cancer cells, they release antigens into the body, priming the immune system to better attack tumors.
“It’s called the abscopal effect,” says Dr. Lin. “Researchers noticed that, after radiation treatments against tumors in one part of the body, tumors in another area would start to shrink. Now we believe this could be used to make immunotherapies even more effective.”
As radiation, surgical and medical oncology advance, their common goal is to transform even the most aggressive cancers into more easily managed chronic diseases.
“It’s an exciting time in oncology because until recently, we generally made slow, incremental improvements in care,” says Dr. Kased. “Now I have patients who had metastatic cancer and are now long- term survivors, which was less common with prior traditional treatments.”