During his 1970 inaugural address, American President Richard Nixon declared a War on Cancer. Promising to allocate at least $100 million in funding to investigate the causes for what was then the second-leading cause of death in the United States, Nixon followed through in 1971 by signing the National Cancer Act. Key objectives of this act included infusing basic sciences research funding, ramping up clinical trials and making the National Cancer Institute a free-standing body under the National Institutes of Health.
Nearly forty years later, physicians and scientists are making great strides in better understanding the etiology, management and treatment in all forms of cancer. Recently, the American Society for Clinical Oncology released a report entitled, Clinical Cancer Advances 2007: Major Research Advances in Cancer Treatment, Prevention, and Screening. This annual review, which is available as a .pdf, podcast, and slideshow at the People Living With Cancer website, includes the following highlights:
Primary Liver Cancer Patients Get the Option for Systemic Treatment: Until recently, surgical techniques were the first line of treatment in liver cancer patients because response to chemotherapy was so poor. In 2007, results of a large study showed that advanced liver cancer using sorafenib (Nevaxar), a targeted chemotherapeutic, lived 44 percent longer than patients who did not.
Kidney Treatments: The standard of care for kidney cancer has been for the most part unchanged for the last decade. This past year, however, presented several strong studies suggesting that the targeted therapeutic bevacizumab (Avastin) may be a viable new treatment option for kidney cancer patients.
MRI over Mammograms? 2007 also gave us new guidelines for using MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, as a diagnostic tool for breast cancer in a high-risk population. Research is still being done on whether it is an effective screening tool.
HPV Not Just Linked to Ovarian Cancer Anymore: Two major studies released last year showed a strong correlation of HPV, or human papillomavirus, to head and neck cancer. Vaccines for HPV, now being marketed to young females as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer, may be also be helpful for head and neck cancer, although studies are currently still in progress.
Menopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy Linked to Breast Cancer: A pair of studies this year suggested that the recent decline in breast cancer incidence may actually be linked to the recent decline of HRT use in menopausal women.
Preventative Measures for Lung Cancer Metastasis: Lung cancer claims the most lives of any other cancer, and individuals with lung cancer that has metastasized, or spread, to the brain historically have a poor prognosis. For the first time ever, cancer research scientists presented a new method of preventative treatment called “whole brain radiation therapy” that may significantly decrease invasion and metastasis to this area.
For cancer patients and their caregivers, it is certainly encouraging to know that every day, physicians and scientists are still coming up with new ways to better understand and treat cancer. Hopefully, this year will give us even more amazing victories that bring us even closer to the total eradication of this devastating disease.