During his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on Vice President Biden to lead a new, national “Moonshot” initiative to eliminate cancer as we know it.
So, why is finding a cancer cure the focus of White House attention? And why now?
Cancer by the Numbers
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease.1 About 1,685,210 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2016 and 595,690 Americans are expected to die this year, which translates to about 1,630 people per day.2
The Cancer Cure Challenge
Cancer is a big, messy, sprawling problem with each type of cancer presenting a different challenge. Finding a better treatment for breast cancer may not have any impact on how we treat colon cancer. And if scientists are able to accomplish this “Moonshot” and find a cancer cure, it will likely target only one specific form of cancer. But, the good news is progress is being made all the time, and many researchers and scientists in many corners of the world are tackling it simultaneously.
Radiation Therapy – An Old Friend With New Tricks One such treatment is radiation therapy. Radiation uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. This therapy has been around since the the early 1900s, but has evolved and improved as a cancer fighting tool, particularly in correct dosing. In the past 20 years, radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, has made tremendous advances, including the use of shaped beams that match the shape of tumors.
Around four in 10 patients who are cured of cancer today have received radiation therapy as part of their treatment.2 Today, radiation therapy is used to treat about 60 percent of cancer cases including: prostate, skin, head and neck, throat, larynx, breast, brain, colorectal, lung, bone, leukemia, ovarian and uterine.
Internal Radiation – Taking The Cure To The Disease
Internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, is a form of radiation therapy where the sources of radiation are put into or near the area that needs treatment. Radiation is delivered via seeds or pellets or via a container that is placed in the body. The cancers most frequently treated with brachytherapy are breast, cervical, ovarian, pelvic, head and neck, lung, perianal and prostate cancer.
Hormone Replacement Therapy – Not That One, The Cancer Fighter
Another early 20th century therapy for cancer treatment is hormone therapy. This is not the hormone replacement therapy associated with menopause, but the use of drugs to prevent cancer cells from growing. Hormone therapy is effective with cancers that are affected by hormones in the blood, including certain types of breast, prostate and uterine cancer.3 Hormone therapy is a type of targeted therapy.
Immunotherapy – Harnessing The Body’s Own Cancer Fighters
Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, is a much more recent development. Immunotherapy has been in use as a cancer fighting tool since about 1987. This therapy helps the body’s immune system fight the cancer or uses man-made versions of substances normally made by the immune system. It is a relatively new therapy for cancer treatment and holds much promise. It is often paired with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. Immunotherapy is another type of targeted therapy.
Let’s Go All In On Cancer
Cancer is a big challenge, and it will require a broad solution — one that looks at a whole host of therapies and treatment options. In the past decades we have made great progress, developing innovative drugs, therapies and cancer treatments that are helping cancer patients beat the disease and live longer lives. Perhaps that “Moonshot” is not the long shot that we once thought it was.
About the Author
Meredith Vray is a healthcare blogger and daughter of a cancer survivor and biological therapy success story. She is passionate about healthcare innovation and looks forward to the day when no one has to endure another round of chemotherapy. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her on local trails, ski slopes and soccer fields with her husband and son.
1 Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/data/types.htm
2 American Cancer Society, Facts & Figures 2016, http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/document/ac...
3 Cancer Research UK, http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2011/07/29/100-years-radiotherapy/
4 American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/understanding-hormone-therapy