Cancer treatments have come a long way

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Thanks to modern medicine, those who are diagnosed with cancer have a better chance of survival.

Early detection and diagnosis may be in part responsible for the amount of people living with cancer. But now new treatments and technologies that target the malignancy and leave healthy tissue are helping.

44-year old Tony McEachern said he went through some pretty radical treatments for the cancerous tumor in his brain at 33; treatments they wouldn't even think about doing now. He spent a week in isolation.

"I know if I had been diagnosed five years before I was that I probably wouldn't be here," he said. "They injected a radioactive isotope right into my brain cavity, right into the tumor cavity. They actually came to the door with a gieger counter, when it was down to a certain level they would let me out, and that took about a week."

He endured five neurosurgeries, two years of radiation, several experimental treatments and more. "I think I went through four years of chemotherapy and they wouldn't even think about doing that for people now."

Mary Louise Gerritsen, a breast cancer survivor since 1995, said her radiation treatment was a frightening experience.

"All of a sudden you're in the huge room, just you and the machine, and all of a sudden, oh my god, this machine is now moving and it's going to be sending waves right through my body," she said.

The radiation treatments for her 1995 breast cancer diagnosis, she explained, may be responsible for two heart attacks and other conditions she has since suffered

"I ended up having four lumpectomys, and with every one of course there's anxiety, tremendous anxiety."

Given a diagnosis now, she would have opted for mastectomy.  And she said technology is much improved.

"The cyber knife that they've come up with now that can treat particular spots I think is a major improvement, because all of your organs are not going to be affected by the radiation you get over the whole area."

Oncologist Steven Mamus, M.D. of Cancer Center Sarasota Manatee said the game changer this decade is better understanding molecular biology and the use of the new class of treatment called targeted therapies.

"In the instance of breast cancer, we have identified a particular protein which is targeted now by at least four different drugs that specifically go after that type of cancer."

Prostate cancer treatments now include seeds, new hormone based, chemotherapy drugs and localized radiation. "We have a technology which uses software from the star wars technology developed under Ronald Reagan which allows us to target more precisely tumor tissue and avoid normal tissue," said Dr. Mamus.

Tony McEachern said he is excited about the new research at Duke where he received his treatment and recently visited. They are exploring the possibilities of curing brain cancer using the polio vaccine.

Because his situation is uncommon, and he had no one his age in his situation at the time of diagnosis, McEachern started a foundation to match those diagnosed with similar cancers who have other things in common including age.  His Team Tony Foundation is a local go-to destination for those seeking help and support.