CBSN

Small Victories In War On Cancer

Alabardas, the historic weapons of the Swiss guards, are seen during the swearing in ceremony for new members of the Vatican's elite Swiss Guard, on May 6, 2005 in Vatican City.
Getty Images/Franco Origlia
The more we learn about cancer the more it becomes clear that there is unlikely to be any one magic bullet for every type of cancer.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports that is what leading researchers found after a meeting in Chicago over the weekend.

But over the years, researchers have developed effective treatments for a lot of different cancers, and are much better at detecting many cancers before they spread.

There is still a long way to go, but doctors and researchers have been pursuing several different avenues in cancer research that show promise.

This year, there have been some small but significant steps forward in the fight against late stage-colon cancer.

Erbitux is one drug that is showing some early promise in European clinical trials. Another drug Avastin also seems to help patients with advanced colon cancer. Avastin is what's known as an anti-angiogenesis drug, designed to inhibit cancerous tumors by blocking the formation of blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Avastin, along with the standard chemotherapy combination, increased survival rates of some people with colon cancer and shrank tumors significantly compared with standard chemo alone.

It's still experimental, but this approach has never really been successfully proven before. So this study is a promising first step.

There are a number of clinical trials that are looking at trying to develop vaccines for different cancers, as well.

The hope is that by identifying specific markers on a cancer cell, the immune system can be trained to respond to those markers and destroy the cell as it would destroy a bacteria or a virus. There have been some successes with cancer vaccines, but they don't work for everyone.

Radiation treatment is still considered an effective treatment for cancer. Radiation techniques have been refined to make it a more effective weapon against the disease. New methods to target radiation more accurately make it possible to increase the dose without damaging healthy parts of the body.

Researchers this weekend in Chicago reported that a strategy in which radiation is given more frequently over a shorter period of time was more effective for a certain type of lung cancer treatment than radiation given over a longer period.

In the long run, the biggest advances may come from unlocking the genetic secrets of a person's individual cancer. We are starting to understand how the genetic makeup of a cancer tumor can affect the way in which it responds to treatment. And may help explain why some drugs work for some patients and not for others.

The hope is that with all of the different ways we now have to treat cancer, someday we'll be able to tailor the treatments to the individual.