EDITORIAL: Many battles remain in war against cancer

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new “Precision Medicine Initiative” aimed at curing diseases like the ever dreaded cancer. This measure is welcomed, as the disease continues to devastate countless families.

The initiative marks a return for Obama, who in his first year in office included $10 billion for cancer research in the federal economic stimulus. But America’s official war on cancer began in 1971, when former President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to support the National Cancer Institute’s effort in finding treatments – and hopefully a cure. There were high hopes at that time, as scientists were close to understanding the underlying causes of the disease. But, despite millions of dollars spent and over 45 years of intense research, cancer continue to wage terror on families, with a significant death rate that rivals cardiovascular diseases.

This war on cancer is not relegated to America. Last week, Jamaican insurance company Sagicor Group announced it was expanding the 18th staging of its annual Sigma Corporate Run to raise over J$50 million to contribute to the Jamaican Cancer Society. One patron of this event, is Jamaican women’s 400 meters champion Novlene Williams-Mills, a breast cancer survivor who went on to compete in the 2012 Olympics and ran a sensational anchor leg for Jamaica’s 4 x 400m relay gold medal at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China.

With such personal resilience and determination as an inspiration, the war to eliminate cancer urgently need more aggression. Since 1971, scientists and doctors have made improvements in diagnosing the disease, leading to better early detection, improved preventative measures, and less invasive medical treatment. These measures have significantly contributed to the reduction of cancer mortality rates, from 215 deaths per 100,000 in 1991 to 172 deaths per 100,000 in 2010, according to recent reports.

It’s obvious the war against cancer involves winning several battles. The current goal is finding effective treatments that enhances the survival rate of victims. But scientists continue to be challenged by the complexity of the disease. In the 1950s, scientists assumed viruses were the primary cause of cancer. Further research showed the disease’s connections with defective cells in the body. Current research shows a variety of defective cells affecting cancers in different areas of the body.

Professor of oncology and co-director of cancer biology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Victor Velculescu, recently said it may have been wishful thinking that curing a disease like cancer was a straightforward task. He said it has become clear that cancer isn’t a single disease or even a hundred different diseases. Rather, each case of cancer is a unique dilemma. Complicating matters, the disease does not remain static, but continually changes. This makes it necessary to continually develop new treatment measures as the disease evolves

It’s blatantly evident that finding effective treatments – and a possible cure – requires increased research, with much potential in alternative medical sources such as marijuana. It’s hoped that funding for Obama’s vital new research initiative won’t be subject to the bitter, divisive politics of Washington, but will receive quick congressional approval. Because cancer never discriminates, does not see the difference among political parties, nationalities, or social groups.

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