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Theranostics is a new approach that merges diagnostics and treatment, revolutionizing how we approach cancer.

As medicine has advanced, new tailored therapies offer patients a more precise and possibly effective path towards healing. In cancer treatment, this personalized approach is essential because each patient’s journey is as unique as their genetic makeup.

What is theranostics? 

Theranostics is a medical process that combines diagnosis and treatment. It is a way to find specific cancer markers in your body and help pinpoint cancer cells. With this information, your provider can then create a treatment plan specific to you that targets those markers. This individualized plan can help increase your chances of recovery and reduce side effects.

Standard medical approach often separates diagnosis and treatment, which may cause delays in care and make it harder to adjust your treatment as necessary. In contrast, theranostics allows for real-time cancer monitoring and quick treatment changes based on these findings.

How does theranostics work?

Theranostics has three main parts: molecular imaging, biomarker identification and customized treatment. Understanding how these parts work together can help you understand the power of theranostics in cancer care.

Molecular imaging, usually a PET scan, allows radiologists to tag or label a molecule such as a protein or receptor (also known as biomarkers) which is specific to the type of cancer. With this imaging, your radiologist can precisely identify the location of the tumor cells. The same molecule is then labeled with a form of radiation. Rather than highlighting where the cells are, the radioactive compound targets and kills the tumor cells. The primary tumor can be targeted, as well as other areas where the cancer may have spread (metastatic disease). Advanced imaging may also help your provider find cancer at an earlier stage when treatment is most effective. 

By accurately mapping your body and identifying these markers, your provider can predict how you may respond to treatments such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy. This allows them to create a treatment plan personalized to you. 

Benefits of theranostics and targeted therapy

The combined approach of theranostics offers many advantages for people living with cancer. Here are some of the key benefits:   

  • Highly selective treatment means minimized side effects: Traditional cancer treatments may cause strong side effects since they attack both healthy and cancerous cells. In contrast, theranostics helps providers deliver medicine directly to cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy tissue, in turn reducing side effects. 
  • More effective treatment: Theranostics allows providers to select personalized treatments that are most likely to be effective for you. This tailored treatment approach results in better chances of both fighting and controlling cancer long-term.
  • Improved outcomes: Theranostics can help treat cancer by using personalized therapies based on the makeup of your tumor. This can lead to improved cancer care, longer survival and lower chances of cancer coming back.
  • Outpatient treatment: Most theranostic treatments are done outpatient (outside of a hospital), which may improve your comfort and well-being, help you continue your daily activities and cope more easily while undergoing treatment.

Side effects of theranostics

Theranostics shows promise in personalized cancer care, but like other cancer treatments, there is the potential for side effects. The good news is that the targeted therapies often used with theranostics usually have fewer side effects than traditional treatments, making them easier to manage. 

These common side effects may include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, skin reactions, anemia and increased risk of bleeding and infection, most of which can be eased with help from your cancer care team. In some instances, treatments may also increase your risk of secondary cancers from radiation exposure or ongoing use of certain therapies. 

Using theranostics for different types of cancer

Here's an overview of how theranostics may help in various cancer types:

  • Prostate cancer: In patients with advanced prostate cancer who don’t respond to traditional treatments, theranostics often involves the use of prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA)-targeted imaging and therapy. This therapy has shown promising results – including longer survival – in men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC).
  • Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs): NETs are a type of cancer found in various organs, including areas of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, lungs and pancreas. Theranostics is a valuable tool in the management of NETs, especially when conventional treatments do not work. Related therapies can be effective in controlling tumor growth and improving symptoms in people with advanced NETs.
  • Breast cancer: Theranostics is important for identifying specific molecular targets in breast cancer. These targets include estrogen receptors (ER), progesterone receptors (PR) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). With targeted imaging, doctors can study the tumor’s features and choose the best treatment (such as hormone therapy or HER2-targeted agents) that may help shrink tumors.
  • Other cancers: Theranostics shows potential in treating various types of tumors including thyroid cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) and lymphomas

We’re here to help

Theranostics shows promise in cancer treatment by providing more precise diagnosis and treatment options for various types of cancer. Along with targeted therapies, theranostics is enhancing patient outcomes and quality of life, setting a new standard for personalized cancer care.

At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team of clinicians work together to provide quality care and help you understand all your options during your cancer journey. Ask your provider if theranostics may be the right approach for you.

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