MIAMI, Florida – Since 1985, the United States has focused on breast cancer awareness in October, but in each of these years, instead of heralding the cure of this disease, we continue to see evidence of its ravages. And, worse yet, as steps to prevent or survive breast cancer are highlighted, several other forms of cancers also take a toll on Americans of every race and age.
Some may recall that during his presidency, Barack Obama made the fight against cancer a priority. In 2009 when he announced a federal economic stimulus package, it included $10 billion for cancer research. In proposing that funding, the president then said, “Now is the time to commit ourselves to waging a war against cancer, as aggressive as the war cancer wages against us.”
America’s official war on cancer began in 1971 when President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to strengthen the National Cancer Institute in its effort to find cures and improved treatment for cancer. At that time, there were high hopes scientists were close to understanding the underlying causes of the disease and cures were within reach.
However, despite millions of dollars expended, including $2 billion increase in research funding for the National Institute of Health approved by Congress this year, and over 48 years of intense research, cancer continues to wage terror on families, with a significant death rate that has affected almost every American family.
While there some progress in treatment and improvement in the survival rate, cancer is still winning. The war to eliminate the disease not only urgently needs more aggression, but it also needs more people to heed the advice liberally given and take responsible action to prevent being victims of cancer.
One of the lasting positives of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is it draws attention among women—especially younger women who may believe they are too young to fall victim to breast cancer—to the importance of preventative tests like annual mammograms.
There are several other preventative tests that are available, assuming people can afford them, which are extremely helpful in preventing various cancers. Some of these tests—including those for prostate and colon cancers—may not be pleasant to endure, but nonetheless we should act responsibly and have them done.
Another responsibility we have is to heed the advice on appropriate diets and lifestyle that can help prevent or minimize the risk of cancer.
Since 1971 scientists and doctors have made improvements in diagnosing cancer. This improvement has, in turn, led to early detection of some cancers, improved preventative measures, and improved medical treatment. Consequently, we have also seen a reduction in cancer mortality rate from 215 deaths per 100,000 in 1991 to 172 death per 100,000 in 2010, according to “A Cancer Journal for Clinicians” in 2014.
However, the death rate for some cancers is still too high. In 2018, 609,640 Americans were estimated to die from the disease. Because of the continued high death rate, a cancer diagnosis is often seen as a death sentence for cancer victims and their families.
It is obvious the war against cancer involves winning several battles. The thrust in the current battle is finding effective treatments that enhance the survival rate.
As research into finding effective treatment and cures continues, scientists continue to be challenged by the complexities of cancer. In the 1950s, scientists assumed viruses were the prime cause of cancer. Further research replaced that assumption with another that cancer was caused by defective cells in the body. More research indicated there are a variety of defective cells that create various types of cancers in different areas of the body.
Professor of oncology/co-director of cancer biology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Victor Velculescu, formerly said it may have been wishful thinking that a disease like cancer was simple, to begin with. He said it became clear cancer isn’t a single disease, but rather each case of cancer is a unique disease. He said complicating matters is along with the peculiarity of some cancers, the disease does not remain static but continually changes. This makes it necessary to continually develop new treatment measures for various types of cancer.
Finding effective cure and treatment for cancer requires increased research, including copious research into the curative effects of new sources like medical marijuana. While there are indications medical marijuana is useful in treating some cancers, more intense research is needed to ascertain its empirical effectiveness as a cure for cancer, generally.
But continually funding research without conclusive findings is frustrating. How many more people must die while this seemingly endless research continues? Cancer is a global problem, and many believe a more focused collaboration of global research should find the elusive cure. Maybe emphatic deadlines should be tied to cancer research funding to hasten answers which must surely exist.