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State of the Nation: Cancer Update

surface of the moon

Moonshot is the term for launching a spaceship to the moon, but it's also used to describe big-picture, breakthrough, right-on-target efforts to get something done: like curing cancer. Vice President Joe Biden is leading the U.S. moonshot initiative to cure cancer with a boost of research funding to advance our understanding of the disease, develop new treatments and end cancer as we know it.

Research dollars from our government have historically played a big role in finding new ways to treat this ever-changing, very complicated illness. Biden's moonshot won't simplify cancer, but it is a push in the right direction.

"There has never been a more exciting time in cancer research," says Ted Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. "New discoveries in the laboratory are coming fast, and there are tremendous opportunities to turn those discoveries into new treatments."

An increased commitment by our government for cancer research is much needed after cuts were made several years ago. Here’s a look at where we've been:

  • 1946: National Cancer Institute creates a program to fund outside research

  • 1971: National Cancer Act greatly increases research funding and is considered the start of the "war on cancer"

  • 1986: World Health Organization sets guidelines on pain medication to provide relief to 90% of patients

  • 2000: Chief of surgery at the NCI says 50% of cancer diagnoses can be cured using surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy

  • 2003: Scientists decode the entire human genome, paving the way for understanding genetic defects that cause cancer

  • 2007: NCI reports the number of cancer survivors increased by 19% since 2001

  • 2012: The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. reaches nearly 14 million, an all-time high

  • 2015: Cancer moonshot initiative invests $1 billion in new cancer research funding

Over the years, more precise radiation, smaller and less invasive surgeries and adding chemotherapy into treatment plans stand out as big advances in cancer care. Cure rates are higher and patients experience fewer side effects.

Which way is the moonshot? Keep an eye out for research news in these areas:

    Precision medicine brings more targeted therapies to patients as physicians better understand how each person's genes interact with cancer cells.

    Advances in immunotherapy mean we're finding ways to boost the body's ability to kill cancer cells.

    Robotic surgery makes operations even more precise.

    Cancer vaccines will become routine in cancer prevention.

And, more and more research data is being collected and shared by the cancer community in order to make advancements faster. The U.S. moonshot includes large databases containing information on cancer.

Continue learning about the cancer moonshot and the history of cancer research/treatment:

Go back to Thrive, Spring 2016



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Thrive Issue: 
Spring, 2016