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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Cancer – – More Must Be Done – – Stark Reminders of the Human Toll

90,000 people per year travel to Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment. Many are children. Most will not find a cure. Some will obtain more time. Almost all will suffer to achieve those additional years or months. Some will be in agonizing treatments for many months or even years. Forty years after President Nixon acknowledged the need for the so-called war on cancer, the therapies are still barbaric. Indeed, too many treatments are still so barbaric that more people than you would know will some day die from the treatments instead of the original cancer.

The staggering 90,000 number and other harsh realities are part of Gina Kolata’s latest NYT article on why changes are needed in the race to prevent, manage and cure cancers. Her latest story focuses on MD Anderson to starkly highlight part of why our nation needs health care reform in general, and why our nation needs to exponentially accelerate and improve the manner in which individuals are treated for the myriad forms of cancers. Here is the image of yesterday’s powerful front page picture and story. Here is the story itself.

Much more can and should be done, now. Happily, there is some expanded support triggered by the Obama Administration’s support for science as detailed here. For example, the NIH and NCI are accelerating great new programs, including the Cancer Genome Atlas with wide-spread “cloud” access to the incredible amounts of new genomic information. But, much more can and should be done. Myriad cancers are starting to surrender their secrets to the brilliant doctors, new machines, and staggeringly fast computers and software that are sequencing genes and visualizing molecules at an unprecedented pace and in ways never before accomplished. Please, stay focused on the debates over health care and demand that our nation act to devote far more resources to saving more of our nation’s 500,000 annual US victims and to prevent future cancers.

Can more be done in an effective way. Absolutely !

Who says so? For one, Dr. James Watson (of the Nobel prize team regarding DNA) in this powerful 2009 NYT editorial article. In just a few paragraphs, he outlines where we’ve been, where we are now, and why now is the time to accelerate and move forward in new ways.

For another, this 2008 book by Dr. Guy Faguet, an experienced doctor/scientist, has much to say on the subject of what’s ahead and what needs to change on cancer research and treatment.

Dr. Faguet makes three main points. First, the “cell kill” approach to cancer is in large measure a failure. He also explains how and why the cell kill clinical trial is so slow and so tied to outmoded reimbursement systems and short-term profit models. Second, cancer prevention deserves far more effort and attention. For example, many oncogenic chromosome changes are caused by retroviruses, and so preventive vaccines are key to prevention and warrant far more effort and money. Some remarkable reductions in cancer appear to been achieved in some nations through vaccinations to eliminate one hepatitis virus. Third, the fast arriving future is finding cancer early and applying human and workable genomic therapy instead of trying to kill cancer cells after they are widespread.

Can this be done, politically speaking ? Yes. For that subject, see Dr. Harold Varmus’ book – The Art and Politics of Science.

Dr. Varmus credentials ? Nobel Prize winner as part of a team of cancer researchers, head of the NIH for the Clinton Administration, and now the leader of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

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