(CBS News) Improvements in cancer treatment have long been measured in decades, but the pace has quickened. Doctors are now hopeful that the prospect of targeted therapy, also called precision treatments, could end the need for chemotherapy and the rough side effects of the drug.
In fact, for many, chemotherapy is no longer the treatment of choice as doctors are now able to understand, indentify and treat some cancer cells more effectively.
Typical cancer treatments have a devastating impact on most cells in the body, but the idea with these new treatments is that they could just target and kill off the cancer cells. The distinction between chemotherapy and precision treatments has been described as the difference between using a bomb and using a sniper because you really target the cells that are causing the cancer to grow.
"Scientists have taught us what makes cancer cells tick and the specific characteristics that drive these cancer cells. They call these cancer cells now addicted to certain genes," Dr. Mark Kris, thoracic oncology chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said on "CBS This Morning: Saturday." "If we know what that addiction is, then we can go in there and pull out that substance that the cancer cell must have to survive."
Some cancers, such as certain leukemia and lung cancer, have had much more dramatic results with these drugs. Precision drugs focus on the molecular structure of the tumor and cancer cells.
"The best example is a disease called chronic myelogenous leukemia, CML. That disease was treated with a traditional chemotherapy or a bone-marrow transplant, a very large dose of chemotherapy, the bone marrow had to be replaced," said Kris. "People now with that illness are given a tablet, and they take a tablet, and many of these people appear to be cured, not just helped, but cured."
One major plus for moving away from chemo is that patients will not have to deal with the severe side effects of the drug.
Kris said that while these targeted treatments have side effects, they are different than those that are associated with traditional cancer treatments.
"There is very little loss of hair, very little damage to your nerves, very little damage to your blood which could lead to infections and bleeding and all the things that people associate with chemotherapy," he said.
For Dr. Mark Kris' full interview, watch the video in the player above.