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A cancer cavalcade for March
Visiting the physician’s office to receive the results of a recent exam, a patient is greeted by a grim face and the pronouncement of terminal, inoperable cancer.
“How long do I have, doctor?” asks the patient.
“Five,” the doctor says.
Shocked, the patient asks, “Five what? Years? Months?”
The physician responds: “Four...three...two...”
Ah, gallows humor. It is a frequent go-to option for me in the darker corners of life. And often with cancer. It got me and my mom through her final years fighting ovarian cancer. It’s been the only way my wife and I can sort out the irony that my father-in-law got a death-sentence-style throat cancer diagnosis more than two decades ago and is still going strong, while my mother-in-law died more than a decade ago, just a few months after having a tumor removed and getting very optimistic predictions from the surgeons and oncologists.
So, humor is one way to face cancer. Another way, however—more practically useful to the population at large—is research and development efforts, from the hallowed halls of academia to the shiny laboratories of pharmas and biotechs. And that’s what we deal in here at DDNews. Discovery, R&D, trials and all the rest—not just in the area of cancer, of course, but oncology-related news is one of our biggest areas of coverage. No surprise there. Aside from antibiotic resistance and the looming threat of Alzheimer’s with an aging population, is there anything else that comes close to the same level of urgency? Cancer is not one disease but a multitude and, as such, has been a tough nut to crack in life sciences and healthcare.
This month, you get more than the usual level of cancer coverage within these pages. A show preview of the upcoming American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting is, by default, cancer-focused. In honor of that meeting and to complement our pre-show coverage of it, several sections of our magazine are, by design, heavier on oncology than usual this issue. And if that isn’t enough for you, there’s always the sister site to our main website—Cancer Research News, at www.ddncancer.com.
This also might be a good time to note some other activity in the cancer arena not easily encompassed by the various news sections in DDNews, such as a March 15 congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., spearheaded by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), dovetailing with the release of ASCO’s “The State of Cancer Care in America: 2016” report, which chronicles the current realities of the cancer care delivery system in the United States and examines trends in the oncology workforce and practice environment that are affecting patient care and access.
This year, ASCO's report presents a mixed picture through an analysis of remarkable progress in cancer care—including declining cancer mortality rates and a growing number of new and effective cancer drugs and technologies—against a backdrop of ongoing health disparities, increasing complexity of treatment, rising drug costs and a turbulent practice landscape, among other pressures, that are challenging our nation's ability to deliver on the promise of precision medicine to every individual with cancer.
Then there was the cancer “moonshot” initiative announced by President Barack Obama earlier this year, which directs the establishment of a White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, chaired by the Vice President, whose membership will include the heads of a wide range of executive branch departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, among many others.
ASCO and AACR were very supportive of the notion of the federal government accelerating the discovery of new cancer treatments, as were various others involved in cancer research and treatment—though some, like the Institute for Policy Innovation, see the moonshot idea as simply throwing taxpayer money at a problem, saying “government doesn't find cures, the private sector does.”
I’m pretty sure both sides work in tandem and pretty much rely on each other myself, though I certainly concur that just spending money is never enough. We need good science, too (see Randy Willis’ "Out of order" commentary, Clinicians must return to basics, in our March issue for more on that).
In any case, the field of cancer research and treatment never has a dull moment, even if they are sometimes grim ones. But there are bright spots as well, and we hope we’re aiming a few rays of light ourselves at just the right shadows.