When the British invasion landed on America’s eastern shore in 1964, another landmark event was taking place in the background: the first meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
And while the two groups would seem to have little in common, they do share one accomplishment: that the work of both groups, and their followers, has helped bring music to millions of peoples’ lives for the last fifty years – albeit in radically different ways.
In fact, ASCO and it’s members – working closely with the biopharmaceutical sector, government researchers and others in the collaborative biomedical ecosystem – arguably boasts a better record on the charts: since that landmark year, advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer have helped slash the death rate from the disease in half, according to experts attending ASCO’s recent 50th anniversary meeting in Chicago.
One main reason is new medicines.
“The study findings being presented at the Society’s 50th anniversary show there is unprecedented reason for hope in cancer research and care,” said ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP. “Clinical trials are delivering on the promise of personalized medicine for both common and rare cancers. We’re finding relatively simple ways to improve the quality of patients’ lives during treatment and improving our understanding of how societal challenges, like obesity, can shape our patients’ care and outcomes.”
“Cancer research is paying off with substantial gains,” added Jyoti D. Patel, MD, Chair of ASCO’s Cancer Communications Committee. “In particular, we’re seeing that there is huge value in improving our use of long-time staple treatments, as this new study on hormonal therapy for prostate cancer shows. And in lung cancer, we’re getting a clearer picture of the important benefits of screening, as well as its substantial projected costs for implementation.
One key to the huge leap forward has been a fundamental shift in the treatment of cancer. In 1964, cancer was viewed as a single disease requiring a one-size-fits all approach for every part of the body. Today, researchers from academia, government and the biopharmaceutical sector recognize that there are more than 200 diseases collectively referred to as ‘cancer.’
Personalized medicine now targets specific types of cancer with specific plans of attack. Researchers have discovered many variations in cancers, including over 300 types of leukemia alone. They are using that knowledge as part of an improved strategy to target important cancer distinctions in each patient and develop individual recovery programs.
In breast cancer, frequent mammograms help identify it at the earliest stage, and new laser, radiation and chemotherapy tools work in tandem to fuel this success. There are currently 61 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration proven effective before and after breast cancer chemotherapy.
The five-year survival rate for a man with prostate cancer has doubled to 99% in the past 50 years. One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, as a result of early detection and other advances, the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancers continues to decline.
But, with an estimated 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with cancer last year, about 580,000 American lives lost to cancer in 2013, and associated with a growing, aging, and more overweight population that makes it likely that cancer will become the leading cause of death by 2030, (with an increase of 40% in the total number of new cancer cases), the need to identify new, effective treatments will intensify.
If you believe in renowned biologist Leroy Hood – who made the bold prediction at ASCO that medicine will see greater change in the next 5-10 years than over the past 50 years – prospects for meeting the challenge appear bright.