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$3 billion Plan: Medical officials vow to drastically reduce cancer deaths by decade's end

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Likening his efforts to President John F, Kennedy's vow to end the Sixties with manned expeditions to the moon, Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center has announced its own equivalent of a "Moon Shots Program." The program is dedicated to significantly reducing the number of deaths from a handful of cancers by the end of the 2010's.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dr. Ronald DePinho, president of the large cancer treatment and research center, says he is launching this project in two parallel tracks: "One is to apply the existing knowledge, to make a near-term impact in this decade," he said. "The second is to also say, 'We do not know everything we need to know to ultimately cure the disease.'"

The center calls the program "an unprecedented effort to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths.

"The Moon Shots Program signals our confidence that the path to curing cancer is in clearer sight than at any other time in history," DePinho says.

Doctors at the center are confident that dying from cancer can eventually be rendered as uncommon as dying from pneumonia.

DePinho believes this can happen sooner rather later for patients suffering from the following five types of cancer: lung cancer, melanoma, triple negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome & chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

These forms of cancer were chosen by a panel of 25 experts from within and outside MD Anderson. The five candidates were chose due to what's known about prevention, treatment and survivorship in addition to the likelihood of reducing the number of deaths.

Lung cancer remains the No. 1 cancer killer worldwide, in part because the cancer is usually found when it's already spread. A good way to screen for lung cancer remains elusive, highlighting the need for effective screening tools.

"If you catch stage 1 lung cancer, you're dealing with about a 20 percent, mortality as opposed to advanced-stage cancers where you're dealing with about 10 percent survival," DePinho says.

One of MD Anderson's experts has since developed a blood test in mice that can more accurately determine who should have a CT screening.

In contrast, skin cancer, the most common form of cancer, is typically not fatal, save for the five percent who are diagnosed with the deadliest form, which is melanoma.

DePinho says he's leveraging the knowledge gained from treating more than 100,000 patients each year with the skills of the thousands of doctors and researchers to significantly improve the detection, treatment and survival rates of cancer, as well as preventing the disease in the first place.

Thanks to advances, doctors can now analyze the DNA of a patient or a tumor in a matter of hours and for only hundreds of dollars, something that took 10 years and cost billions when the first genome was sequenced.

A patient's genetics can help doctors determine who will benefit from an existing drugs and who will not, so patients aren't wasting time and money on a very expensive drug that will not help their condition.

The cancer center is backing this project with a $3 billion investment over the next decade.

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