By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Cancer is a complex disorder with various manifestations and pathologies at the molecular level. Because of the deadly nature of the disease and its widespread incidence and prevalence, there is intense scientific effort to understand disease processes and discover possible therapies.
With the advent of molecular biology and cellular biology and pathological techniques there is a much deeper understanding of the disease compared to a few decades ago.
Nixon’s “War on Cancer”
It was in 1971 when President Nixon announced “War on Cancer” and since then understanding of the disease to find possible treatments has come a long way. Since 1971 the United States has invested over $200 billion on cancer research; that total includes money invested by public and private sectors and foundations.
Incidence, survival and cure rates
Although incidence rates of the disease has risen in most countries, with advent of better therapies survival has lengthened, cure rates have increased and death rates due to cancer decreased dramatically over the last two decades. In the United States a five percent decrease in the cancer death rate (adjusting for size and age of the population) is seen between 1950 and 2005.
Molecular basis of cancers
Several factors like immunological and hormonal factors as well cellular signalling molecules have been and are still being studied. These may also provided targets for therapy.
Better screening methods
Better and more cost effective as well as more acceptable screening methods for common cancers are being studied in large populations. Researchers are looking at new methods by which to reduce false positive results (that detect a disease when it is not present) and false negative results (that miss out a cancer or disease when it is actually present).
Better diagnostic tests
Better and more accurate genetic testing and use of molecular biology tools for diagnosis of cancers are being studied and developed. The idea is to bring these techniques to the bed side and make them easily and cost-effectively available to the patients.
Better therapeutic modalities and targeted therapies
Cancer therapy is fraught with fears and risks of side effects. Research is continuously on to find methods that treat and cure the cancer without severely debilitating the patient.
Better cancer prevention and early detection awareness
Research not only focuses on prevention and treatment but also improving awareness regarding better lifestyle measures and early detection of cancers to improve detection, chances of therapeutic success and survival. Research also focuses of several foods and supplements that may help prevent cancers. Researchers are working towards better ways to provide emotional support to cope with cancers.
Cancer research organizations
Cancer research organizations include:
The American Association for Cancer Research
The American Cancer Society (ACS)
The American Society of Clinical Oncology
The European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer
The National Cancer Institute
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network
The Cancer Genome Atlas project at the NCI
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)