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

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These vaccines (two have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) have great potential to reduce head and neck cancers, as well as anal cancer deaths, which can also be caused by HPV, Brawley said.

But advances in detection have been complemented by improvements in treatment, the experts added. These include better surgical techniques. For example, studies suggest that women who have a lumpectomy to conserve their breast along with radiation typically have as good a prognosis as women who undergo a full mastectomy.

Targeted radiation has also made treatment much less onerous for prostate cancer patients, and new chemotherapies often arrive with drastically fewer side effects than in decades past.

The age of "targeted therapies" or "personalized medicine" -- an era ushered in by anti-estrogen breast cancer therapies such as tamoxifen (which debuted in the 1980s) -- is here, Brawley said. Those highly targeted medications were later joined by aromatase inhibitors as well as Herceptin (trastuzumab) to attack a specific form of Her2neu-positive breast cancer.

Scientists are also finding new targets for lung, colorectal and other cancers. For example, studies show that Tarceva (erlotinib) can improve the average survival of patients with non-small cell lung cancer by about two months. That may not sound like much but, in lung cancer, it represents a huge stride.

"Wonder drug" Gleevec, a medicine used to push certain blood cancers into remission, is another targeted-therapy success story. In fact, a colleague of Whelan's was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia while still in his 20s and subsequently died. Had he been diagnosed a few years later, after the discovery of Gleevec, he would have lived, Whelan believes.

Brawley agrees that "personalized medicine is the future," and he predicts many more advances in this area in the next five years.

Dubois added: "We are doing molecular finge
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