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Cancer remains a threat, but every year we learn more about its weaknesses.

And doctors have just discovered that all types of cancer fit under two exhaustive categories, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Cell.

Crucially, they noted that cancer cells can “switch off” to evade treatment and re-emerge later.

All cancers fall into one of two types

Specifically, the study linked every form of cancer to a transcriptional regular called Yes-associated protein (YAP), with discrete variances between cancer cells that do and don’t exhibit YAP, called “YAPon” and “YAPoff,” respectively. The novel study was executed by scientists from several institutions within the Sinai Health System, with aims to finish the YAP-intensive survey of several cancers. But this study could also have a direct impact on the future of cancer treatments, and perhaps even forthcoming cures for the relentless illness.

Cancers of the YAPoff variety are especially dangerous to humans, but both YAPoff and YAPon possess weak points, according to the new study. Notably, exposing a YAPoff tumor to YAP could delay its growth. But sadly, discrete tumors can switch between the two types via an evolved survival mechanism to evade treatments, which makes it hard to destroy tumors. Since the majority of cancer discoveries are highly specific, a study that unites all types (and locations) of cancer is practically breathtaking, and will likely inform the development of treatments in the coming years. “The simple binary rule we uncovered may expose strategies to treat many cancer types that fall into either the YAPoff or YAPon superclasses,” said the co-lead study author Joel Pearson, who is also a scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, in a press release from Sinai.

“Moreover, since cancers jump states to evade therapy, having ways to treat either the YAPoff and YAPon state could become a general approach to stop this cancer from switching types to resist drug treatments,” added Pearson in the release. This comes on the heels of several advances in the pursuit of treating or curing cancer. In January, researchers developed a new phototherapy technology that can reduce pain and increase the efficiency of chemotherapy, according to a study published in the journal Nano. The new method uses a phototherapy agent capable of minimizing side effects conventionally associated with chemotherapy, without sacrificing the effectiveness of killing cancer cells.

Multiple new cancer treatment methods are emerging

The January study was executed by a research team from Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), under Sehoon Kim’s leadership from Theragnosis Research Center, and together, they developed the phototherapeutic cancer treatment. The new treatment only needs a single injection, with subsequent phototherapy. Upon injection, the photosensitizer selectively destroys cancer cells when lasers are fired into the patient’s body. Notably, this reduced the side effects one usually expects from radiation therapy, like damage to tissue adjacent to cancer cells, which makes future treatment via the method more realistic.

Cancer research has come far, but in recent years it’s begun to take larger strides than ever before. The ability to reduce side effects in treatment with new and emerging technology will be a crucial site of advancements in the next decade, but, on a deeper level, expanding our knowledge of the target, namely, cancer itself, will surely have a more lasting impact on the fight to end the illness. Because the only thing worse than being diagnosed with cancer is having it happen again.

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