Blog | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Cancer research good for survival, and the economy

High-tech cancer research has led to more people surviving for longer, and calls for continued funding point out not only that it's good for people, but it's good for the economy, too.

With a nod toward the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon signing the National Cancer Act, the American Association for Cancer Research released the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011 outlined several key advances that have happened since his presidency in diagnosing, treating and eventually preventing cancer.

Between 1990 and 2007, death rates for all cancers decreased by 22% for men and 14% for women, resulting in 898,000 fewer deaths from the disease, the report said. Today, more than 68% of adults live 5 years or more after their first diagnosis, up from 50% in 1975. There are more than 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today, and 15% were diagnosed more than 20 years ago.

While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have all developed into standards of care, the report looks toward advances in understanding the molecular forces that drive disease, and how it will lead to personalized care.

Among other fields of research, the Human Genome Project has identified more than 290 genes related to cancer. This has led, in turn, to finding two key classes of cancer genes, oncogenes that drive uncontrolled cell growth and tumor suppressor genes that protect the genome.

And, the report continued, whereas the organ of origin used to define what kind of cancer a patient has, now it's defined by the molecular changes that are occurring. (ACP Internist columnist W. Gregory Feero, MD, PhD, Special Advisor to the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, examines this topic in the September issue.)

Now that this is understood, the report continues, researchers have developed targeted therapies are far less damaging than chemotherapy. There are now 32 such drugs, such as imatinib (Gleevec), for chronic myelogenous leukemia, which now offers a 5-year survival rate of 95%.

AACR noted in a separate press release that $3.8 billion in federal funds invested in the Human Genome Project from 1988 to 2003 helped drive $796 billion in economic impact and generated $244 billion in total personal income.

AACR called for Congress to provide the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute with sustained budget increases of at least 5% above the biomedical inflation rate.

Append the economic benefits of research onto the key issue of the war on cancer is topical, considering the current political environment that is clamoring for jobs and acting so cynically toward providing care for the sickest individuals. What would Nixon have thought of it all?