Preventative screenings and the future of cancer treatment

Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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High-risk cancer screenings are an essential component of preventive medicine. Healthcare professionals recommend these screenings for individuals who are at an elevated risk of developing certain types of cancer due to factors such as family history, genetic mutations, or previous exposure to carcinogens. The goal of high-risk cancer screenings is to detect cancer at an early stage when it is more treatable, which can ultimately lead to better outcomes. 

Prevention screenings available at our local St. Luke’s Hospital include breast, lung, and colon cancer screenings.

The High-Risk Breast Cancer Screening Clinic is for women with a Gail Score above 1.7%. Convincing evidence for some preventative treatments offered through the clinic can result in a risk reduction of developing breast cancer by as much as fifty percent. 

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Lung Cancer Screening is a low-dose CT scan of your chest to find cancer before symptoms appear. The screening at St. Luke’s provides much greater detail and is most helpful in guiding treatment for those at moderate risk of developing lung cancer.

3D Mammography detects up to 65% more invasive breast cancers than 2D Mammography, reducing false positives by as much as 40%. It is the only mammogram that is FDA-approved as “superior” for dense breast tissue. 

A colonoscopy is one of the most effective means of screening for cancer and preventing a tumor from developing.

With immunotherapy’s promising, exciting potential, I asked the team, what’s next? 

Dr. Stephenson is excited about CAR-T-cell therapy, a newer treatment that engineers immune cells to hunt down and kill specific blood cancer cells. The treatment involves removing and genetically altering immune cells, called T cells, from cancer patients. The modified cells then produce proteins called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). The manipulated CAR T-cells recognize a specific antigen on the surface of cancer cells. The CAR T-cells grow and multiply until there are enough cells to target cancerous cells effectively. CAR T-cell therapy is known as the “living drug because of its ability to multiply.” According to Stephenson, CAR-T therapy and TIL therapy are the first glimpses of what appears to be a bright future for cancer management. 

Chemotherapy is already playing less of a role; even targeted therapies will eventually run their course. Therapies like monoclonal antibodies and therapeutic and preventive cancer vaccines are showing promise as well per the physician. 

The best treatment for cancer is not to have to treat it at all. Thus, prevention remains the central focus of intervention. It is much better to be proactive than reactive. At St. Luke’s here in Polk County, as in other parts of the country, teams are leaning into and disseminating prevention and early detection rooms through lung cancer screening programs, high-risk breast cancer prevention clinics and risk reduction clinics.

Cancer permanently alters the course of the lives of the people it touches. Cancer survivors face long-term challenges because of surgery and treatments. Cancer survivorship helps people navigate and live with those life changes. In addition to continuing surveillance, strong cancer programs like the one at our local St Luke’s provide a holistic approach to the patient’s treatment plan, including post-therapy management. Post-therapy management may incorporate nutrition, psychosocial, physical therapy, and spiritual guidance. Patient’s families and loved ones are encouraged to participate throughout the initial treatment and survivorship care. 

According to Stephenson, the next significant advancement in the fight against cancer is detecting sub-microscopic levels of cancer cells circulating tumor DNA through the bloodstream. Molecular residual disease detection is coming of age and is an oncology game changer both in evaluating the efficacy of therapy and in surveillance for recurrence. The ultrasensitive technologies detect and measure MRD in patients who have undergone curative treatment and allow providers to apply additional cancer interception strategies to eradicate cancer.

Thanks to the remarkable strides in cancer research and care over the past decades, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has now exceeded 18 million, a figure expected to rise by nearly twenty-five percent by 2032. This increase in survivors is a testament to progress in the fight against cancer.

While the fight for the cure is far from over, knowledge velocity continues to drive phenomenal progress. Cancers like melanomas once had a survival rate of less than six months; now, many patients survive even with Stage IV disease. This survival rate was unheard of a decade ago. Lung cancer and triple-negative breast cancer are making substantial improvements. The medical knowledge doubling curve is expanding exponentially. In 1950, our medical understanding doubled every fifty years. By 1980, doubling occurred every seven years; by 2010, we doubled our medical knowledge every three and a half years. With this acceleration of medical expertise, it’s no wonder why Dr. Stephenson and his team are so optimistic.

Dr. Stephenson’s final words were, “St. Luke’s is at the forefront of pathology, diagnostics, and therapeutics. In these areas, we are on par with the most renowned institutions in America.” His words underscore his team’s significant contributions and commitment to advancing cancer care in Polk County and the surrounding region. 

If you have questions about anything mentioned in this article, contact Savannah Hightower, NP at (828) 894-0111 or visit