Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the industrialised world and its incidence is growing. But if detected early enough, many forms of the disease can be effectively treated. Cancer is not a single, static disease. It is a complex condition of which over 250 types have been identified so far. Its development involves a multitude of changes in the affected cells, and this makes it difficult to fight.
Roche currently has a number of innovative cancer drugs on the market. They give patients the most important thing in life: time to live.
These innovative drugs offer survival benefits in different types of cancer and each has its own unique mechanism of action that halts tumour growth. In addition to these products, we supply a variety of therapies that help to ease the possible side effects associated with cancer treatment.
Precise diagnosis is the key to successful treatment. Biomarkers, i.e. components of our body cells that can be used as indicators for the disease, will enable doctors to determine which cancer type a patient has much more quickly and specifically.
Roche is also working to identify tumour markers that will detect tumour cells long before the first symptoms become apparent. This information will help physicians to initiate targeted and effective treatment without delay, thereby enhancing patient well-being and decreasing the cost to the healthcare system.
Our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of tumour development and how tumours spread has continually improved. This helps our scientists to target the processes that lead to cancer. This is an area where biopharmaceuticals, and especially highly specific antibodies, play an important role. Our goal is to use modern technologies to make these biopharmaceuticals even more effective in the future.
Every human body has an astonishing 100 trillion cells. Almost all contain the complete genetic information for the formation of a human being. We differ from each other as a result of small differences in this genetic makeup. These differences make us unique, but they can also make some people more likely, or pre-disposed, to develop certain diseases than others.
For example, women with a mutation in two genes associated with breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. In colorectal cancer, there are two important hereditary forms associated with the loss of a gene on one chromosome and changes on three others. Certain forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer of the blood, are also linked to an inherited exchange of genes.
These predispositions combine with influences outside the body, including our environment and lifestyle. More than half of all cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes (Source:
At Roche, our deep insights into the causes of cancer, and people’s predisposition to developing it, is integral to our ambition to develop even more personalised solutions to tackle the disease.
Cancer is not a single disease - more than 250 different types of this complex illness have been identified so far. One thing all cancers have in common is the malignant (harmful) uncontrolled growth of cells in an organ or tissue.
Most healthy cells in our bodies go through a cycle of growth and division. Occasionally, cell division results in damage to genetic material. The body can usually repair damaged cells, but in cancer, cell growth continues unchecked. Normally our immune system combats new cancer cells but if they are not recognised they can slip through the net.
Cancerous cells that escape detection can divide again and again to form a lump of cancer cells known as a tumour. As tumours grow they can displace or destroy surrounding tissue. Cells can also break off the tumour and be carried around the body in the blood or lymphatic system. This can lead to the formation of secondary tumours, known as matastases, in distant organs or tissues. In cancers of the blood, the cancer cells can circulate in the blood and can stop the normal production of blood by the bone marrow.
How quickly a tumour grows depends on the speed at which the cells divide. Some divide very rapidly, others slowly. The blood supply of a tumour influences growth rates since blood transports nutrients and oxygen to the tumour cells. Some tumours can even cause new blood vessels to grow into the tumour from adjacent areas, giving them a richer supply of nutrients and oxygen and enabling them to grow faster.
Understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cancer development and how cancers spread has continually improved. For Roche, this knowledge helps our scientists to target the processes that lead to cancer.
The earlier a cancer can be diagnosed, the better. Bowel cancer, for example, is curable if detected early, but around 20 per cent of newly diagnosed patients have cancer that has already spread beyond the bowel (metastatic disease).
Healthcare professionals use a variety of different methods to diagnose and determine the nature and spread of different kinds of cancer. Mammograms, computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) ultrasound, bone scans and biopsy may all be important in breast cancer. Examination of stool specimens and colonoscopy are widely used in bowel cancer and the removal of lymph nodes, combined with X-ray and other imaging, helps to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Across all cancers, a precise diagnosis involves the detailed examination of samples of potentially cancerous cells. Roche specialises in providing the solutions to enable those tests to be done quickly and accurately. Our aim is to arm doctors with information on the type and spread of cancer to help them decide on the best treatment for their patients.
The complexity and range of different types of cancer demands a range of different treatment options. Cancer can be operated on, irradiated or treated with drugs, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy and monoclonal antibodies. All of these methods aim to kill cancerous cells, stop them growing or prevent them spreading.
Roche pioneered the development of monoclonal antibodies, which target proteins in or on cancer cells, leaving other healthy cells alone. This can increase the effectiveness of traditional chemotherapy without adding to chemotherapy side-effects such as nausea or hair loss.
Today we are the leading provider of cancer treatments in the world, and our cancer portfolio helps make us the world’s largest producer of biopharmaceuticals.
For Roche, the future is personalised. Fitting the treatment to the patient is an ambitious goal - but the concept of personalised healthcare is at the heart of our research and development strategy in cancer. Through this approach, we aim to use new molecular insights and molecular diagnostic tests to provide more tailored medicines and enhance the management of cancer.
Research into diagnostics will continue, and biomarkers (components of our body cells that can be used as indicators for the disease) will enable doctors to determine much more quickly and specifically which cancer type a patient has. Roche is already working to identify tumour markers that will detect tumour cells long before the first symptoms become apparent.
Our scientists will also continue to target the processes that lead to the disease. Biopharmaceuticals, especially highly specific antibodies, will play an important role in the future. Each day around 7,000 scientists work for Roche on developing new medicines for diseases including cancer.
Ultimately, our goal is to use modern technologies to provide healthcare professionals with more powerful diagnostic tools and even more effective biopharmaceutical treatments based on new insights into how cancer arises at the molecular level.
This information is intended for the general public. Please consult your doctor if you need more information.