With 2010 behind us, it’s important that we reflect on the year in regards to medical progress for the millions of people afflicted with cancer. Here are a few headlines that made the news in 2010:
- Combining Hormone Therapy and Radiation Therapy May Help Some Men With Prostate Cancer Live Longer
- Drug Combination Increases Survival for Older People with Advanced Lung Cancer
- Targeted Therapy Drug Slows Growth of Advanced Ovarian Cancer
- ER, PR and HER2 Status May Change in Breast Cancer Tumors That Have Spread
- Drug Improves Survival for Patients With Advanced Melanoma
- New Drug Helps Manage Advanced Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer for Some Patients
- Promising Screening Method for Ovarian Cancer Found.
As I searched for these highlights, I was envisioning what the headlines might hopefully read 50 years from today, in 2061. This is what I envision them saying:
- Cancer is no longer life-threatening…
- Cancer was a disease that…
So how do we get from here to there? That question can be answered by knowing how we got from then to now.
Dedication to Progress
In the 1970s, when Illinois CancerCare came to be, the average survival rate for cancer patients was about 35 percent; today it is nearly 68 percent. This progress can be attributed to the thousands of physicians and researchers around the world who dedicate their time and efforts to cancer research.
Just in the past couple of years, there has been monumental progress made and hopeful discoveries that will continue to lead physicians and researchers into new territory. Medical science is on the verge of tests that bring us closer to being able to look at the structure of cancer cells in patients and customize their individual treatments, rather than taking a global approach, in which failure rates have been clearly documented.
The Cancer Genome Project is allowing scientists and researchers to identify genes that are mutated, and hence, drive tumor development—a central aim of cancer research since the advent of recombinant DNA technology. In layman’s terms, this project is allowing researchers to use the human genome sequence as a way to identify genes critical in the development of human cancers.
The First-Ever Vaccine
Late in 2010, the FDA approved a new form of immune therapy for men who have advanced late-stage prostate cancer. Known as Provenge (APC8015), the therapy has shown a significant survival benefit in men with metastatic androgen-independent prostate cancer, when compared to patients receiving a placebo.
The first of its kind, the vaccine is produced from the patient’s own cells and must be custom-made for each patient. First, patients have their blood run through a machine (apheresis) for two or three hours in order to extract certain immune system cells, called antigen presenting cells (APCs). These cells must be sent to the pharmaceutical company and then mixed with a protein called prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) that is commonly found on most prostate tumors. The PAP is fused with another immune-stimulating substance called GM-CSF.
Once the vaccine is mixed, it must be able to be returned within a two-hour period, and infused back into the patient. Illinois CancerCare in Ottawa (due to its proximity to a major airport) is one of only three sites in Illinois approved to treat patients with Provenge for advanced late-stage prostate cancer.
The basic science behind this first-ever vaccine for cancer, Provenge, is to alert the immune system that cells containing PAP (i.e., prostate cancer cells) should now be attacked as if they were foreign invaders. This is exciting ground that has opened new doors and provided hope to those who had none.
On the Verge of a Breakthrough
Just this last month, Johnson & Johnson and a handful of researchers from Boston announced exciting news about a new test that can change the face of how physicians determine whether the current treatment protocols are effective in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer patients with tumors have cancer cells circulating in their blood stream, so inventors of this new test say it acts like a liquid biopsy, without the need for invasive tissue sampling. In the future, they hope it will offer a way to screen for cancer. But one of the immediate effects we could see as early as this year is doctors being able to monitor cell levels and adjust treatments for the best outcomes.
We are on the verge of breakthrough medicine, to be sure. Now is not the time to cut back scientific cancer research being done in a clinical setting; rather, we should be doubling efforts. Unfortunately, the government has continued to either cut or flat-line the budget for cancer research.
So how do we get from here to the hopeful headlines of 2061? We must continue to fund cancer research on local, national and global levels. The Illinois CancerCare Foundation mission is to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients in our communities, while paving the way to a cure. We accomplish this by funding clinical cancer research and education that is done right here in our community. In 2010 we funded in part or full seven clinical trials being done by the physicians of Illinois CancerCare, who were one of only 10 centers in the nation to be recognized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 2007 for their contributions to clinical research.
To continue on our mission, we need your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Illinois CancerCare Foundation, where together, we can and will make a difference. iBi
For more information on the Illinois CancerCare Foundation, visit illinoiscancer.com or call (309) 243-3320.