Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A backwards look

It has been 40 years since President Nixon declared a war on cancer. We still don't have a cure but we have a lot of progress. Maybe the president was being a bit unrealistic in his goals but it did start some substantial progress in cancer's treatment and survival rates. But looking back on 40 years of research shows some progress. Let me say that I never did like the term war but I'll use it here.

I have also been reading "The Emperor of all Maladies A Biography of Cancer" which I have not finished (but do recommend). I am about 1/3 of the way through it and have been reading about the centuries of diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It amazes me how early cancer was known to be a killer but also how badly it was mistreated and misdiagnosed.

By 1971 doctors thought they understood cancer. Since then, they have discovered how wrong they were. Cancer is now thought to be 200 different diseases that need to be treated differently. However there have been two significant break throughs:

- The most important is that of genetics based on the decoding of the human genome in 2001.
- The next is the understanding of the lifestyle changes that help reduce cancer rates - these are everything from eating right, quitting smoking, getting exercise.

Next in the war on cancer it is expected that personalized medicine will give us the answer. Also, the prevention of cancer should contribute greatly to solving the puzzle. If we can continue to make lifestyle changes that help prevent cancer in our aging population, more lives will be saved.

But after 40 years of progress we still have over half a million Americans dying of cancer each year. I see some progress here but I also think that overcoming 200 diseases is much more daunting than overcoming only the one disease the war was originally focused on.

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