With the National Cancer Act of 1971, President Nixon officially declared that the US was at war with cancer. The goal of this war is to defeat cancer as a major cause of death through a better understanding of cancer biology and the development of more effective treatments.
In the 40+ years since the act’s inception, how much progress have we actually made?
Cancers overall still remain a major cause of death, however significant progress has been made in early detection, prevention and treatment:
• In December 2014, the American Cancer Society reported a 22% drop in cancer mortality over the last two decades, with a corresponding increase in the survival rate of all cancers in both men and women
• The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 made it possible to test the value of genomic approaches and identify underlying genetic changes that lead to cancers
• Emerging data since 2003 have significantly changed the way cancers are researched and have led to the development of new diagnostics, therapies, preventive measures, and early detection
• Research direction is currently focused on combining new compounds and diagnostics to help increase efficacy and reduce toxicity through the use of agents that target specific tumor pathways most relevant to a patient’s own disease
• Scientific advances in treatment have also been born out of our growing ability to harness the immune system to fight cancer
These scientific discoveries have led to a shift from an organ-based to a molecular-based approach, and the results are already having a profound impact on the way cancer is being treated and treatments are being personalized to patients. Personalized medicine is an ideal that is driving much of the future of cancer research. The hope is that tailoring treatment to patients’ individual needs based on their genetic data will improve outcomes and reduce adverse side effects. With our increasing knowledge of the human genome, this is steadily becoming a real possibility, and the advent of immuno-oncology brings another layer of individualized therapy into the clinic.
While many battles against cancers have been hard fought and won on several fronts, the “cure” to cancers still seems elusive, largely because cancer is a cluster of many diseases. Looking to the future, one of our greatest challenges may be translating our recent discoveries into treatments that address patients’ individual mutation profiles and truly treat the patient instead of the disease.
One of our biggest questions may be whether our healthcare system can afford the cost of “high-quality” cancer care. Most likely the answer will be no, but to address this challenge, the onus will be on the healthcare community (providers, payers, insurers) to determine how we will use our growing understanding of individualized cancer therapy to advance the quality and effectiveness of cancer care.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION:
Questions? Comments? You can contact the author directly at email@example.com.
Please allow 24 hours for response.