War on Cancer

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Forty years ago, politicians and scientists declared a “war on cancer”. The idea was to put a lot of money into cancer research with an expected cancer cure within a few years. None of that ever happened but, over the last forty years, we have learned a lot about cancer and have made some significant advances.

What we’ve learned in the last forty years is that cancer itself is a complex and complicated disease. Genetics and our chromosomes play a large role in who gets cancer and who subsequently recovers from it. We have discovered how to use genetics in families to see who is at greater risk for getting certain types of cancer.

Research has been disappointing in the area of treating metastatic cancer. What is known is that people with metastatic cancer still almost always die. Newer treatments developed since 1970 have been able to prolong a patient’s life for at most, a couple months.

We’ve made our best strides in the area of early detection and prevention. More women get Pap smears, more people have been given screening colonoscopies and more women have gone for screening mammograms over the years, resulting in an increase in the number of people discovered to have cancer at an earlier stage, which means longer survival times and more cures.

Linkages between habits and the development of cancer have been discovered. Some of the more common ones include the link between smoking and lung cancer. It has now been discovered that smoking causes other cancers, such as bladder and pancreatic cancer. A total of fourteen different cancers have been found to be linked to smoking history. In addition, obesity and the eating of fatty foods have been found to be linked to cancer. These kinds of things have helped individuals get the choice to change their lifestyle and habits in order to prevent cancer.

Forty years ago, doctors had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in the armament to treat cancer. During that time, other treatments have been added to cancer treatment. For example, hormonal therapy has been used especially in the treatment of male and female cancers, with good success. Similar treatments, such as those used on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in breast cancer have led to amazing successes in women who would otherwise die early deaths.

In 1970, better registries were created to identify cancer patients. This led to better pools of individuals from which to study the disease and hopefully find better treatments. What is known from these cancer registries is that we have made some progress. The death rate from 1991 through 2008 has decreased by 18.3 percent.