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

rprinting of each individual tumor and, although we're not using that right now to direct cancer care, the idea is once we have that information we will be able to use it to figure out exactly which treatments a patient needs so they're not being given unnecessary treatment. And the treatment they do get is going to be much more effective on the first round of therapy when it really makes the biggest difference."

Doctors now also know that "multi-modality" therapy -- meaning the combined use of surgery, radiation and drug therapy -- "has given people the best chance for good outcomes for particular kinds of cancer," said Benz.

Progress lacking on some fronts

But while there's been undisputed progress, "it's very incomplete progress," Benz and others acknowledged.

"If you look over the past 40 years, on some fronts we've actually been winning and on some fronts we're losing terribly," said Brawley. "We are our own worst enemy in terms of battling cancer with tobacco control, diet and exercise and getting everybody adequate preventive screening and treatment.

"In excess of 200,000 of the 500,000 lives that will be lost from cancer this year could have been avoided if we simply adopted all the cancer-control technologies that we've learned over the last 40 years," he added.

Although the smoking rate has declined dramatically since publication of the U.S. Surgeon General's 1964 report, it's been stalled at about 20 percent for 10 years now, Brawley said.

There are also lingering disparities in both prevention and treatment by race, socioeconomic status and urban versus rural locations, said Brawley.

Cancer therapies are also becoming increasingly complicated and expensive "at a time when the trend in health care and in support for cancer research is going down," added Benz. "I worry that we're going to see increasing disparities as cancer and personalized medicine becomes more complicated and expensive. It wil
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