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40 Years On, the Triumphs and Challenges of America's 'War on Cancer'
Date:12/22/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Jack Whelan first knew something was wrong when it got harder and harder to walk from the train station in Boston to the financial district where he worked.

He knew something was terribly wrong when he started getting nose bleeds.

A consultation with an oncologist confirmed Whelan's fears: He had advanced Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, a rare form of blood cancer that affects only about 1,500 people in the United States each year.

Forty years ago, Whelan would have had five years to live -- at the outside -- and who knows what his quality of life would have looked like.

But today, five years after his diagnosis and almost 40 years to the day that President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act declaring "war" on cancer, Whelan, 63, is power-walking, raking leaves, shoveling snow and back at work as a marketing executive.

Whelan is just one of the millions of Americans who have benefited from continued advances in cancer research. He has participated in four different clinical trials and is currently taking an experimental drug called LBH589 which, Whelan said, makes him "feel like Popeye the sailor after having spinach."

Just this month, scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where Whelan is being treated, discovered a single gene mutation present in 90 percent of patients who have this rare type of cancer, raising the hope that an even more targeted treatment will soon be able to attack the disease.

Since Dec. 23, 1971, and the passage in Congress of the National Cancer Act, research has made tremendous progress against what is still one of the world's foremost killers, experts say.

"Back at that time point, cancer essentially was a death sentence," said Dr. Raymond N. DuBois Jr., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Ho
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