40 Years of Research: A Report
This is an essay from Time about 40 years of progress in cancer research. The bottom line is that, yes, a great deal of progress has been made; there are certain cancers that are frequently now curable that were previously lethal. Examples would include Hodgkins Disease, testicular cancer, and some chronic leukemias. Many other cancers (including breast cancer) now can be treated by many different drugs, and many people are surviving much longer than they might have 30 or 40 years ago. When I first began to practice, there was exactly one treatment for metastatic breast cancer; when it (adriamycin) stopped working, there was nothing else to offer. As we all know, there is now a long list of possibilities, but the goal of preventing or curing cancer has not been reached.
Here is the start of the article and then a link to read more:
In 40 Years of Cancer Research, How Far Have We Come?
By ALICE PARK Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I don't normally write about anniversaries, but this one seems worth noting. It's been 40 years since President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971, the historic legislation that focused attention — and perhaps more importantly, government funding — on the need to research and find treatments for cancer.
A lot has changed in the past four decades. The disease that doctors thought they knew then is very different from the cancer they're studying today. For one thing, scientists have a much better understanding that cancer isn't simply one disease in which cells suddenly start to grow out of control, but rather hundreds of different diseases. In fact, according to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Progress Report, cancer is actually more like 200 distinct diseases, each spurred on by slightly different causes and requiring different treatments.
And instead of focusing so slavishly on the tumors themselves, as experts did initially, researchers have enlarged the window through which they study cancer, allowing the consideration of other critical features, such as how the patient's own makeup might affect the disease. Scientists also look at how tumors tend to co-opt their environment for their own pathological needs, turning healthy tissues into diseased ones in a process that makes cancer increasingly difficult to control.
"In the haste to continue research and fund it, you sometimes need to stop and turn around and look back at what we've accomplished," notes Dr. William Dalton, president, CEO and center director of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute and a co-chair of the AACR committee writing the report. "The reduction in death rates of many common cancers that has occurred over the last 40 years is incredible. That's important because that's huge progress against something that is probably the biggest health scare for any society."
Indeed, the death rates for cancer in the U.S. have dropped by 22% for men and 14% for women between 1990 and 2007. And in 1975, only 50% of people diagnosed with cancer could expect to live for another five years; now nearly 70% do. Among children, the gains are even greater: 80% of youngsters can expect to survive their childhood cancer today, compared with 52% in 1975.
Much of that success can be attributed to two key milestones in cancer research: understanding the simple lifestyle factors that contribute to cancer and, on the opposite end of the technological spectrum, the mapping of the human genome in 2001. Behavioral changes such as quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to UV rays, for example, have played a significant role in preventing lung and skin cancers, while the Human Genome Project continues to yield new and useful information on the genetic drivers of cancer.