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Can We Really Cure Cancer

Posted 1/15/2016

Posted in

  In his final State of the Union address, President Obama laid out an inspirational/aspirational plan to cure cancer. It is reminiscent of President Nixon's 1971 announcement of a War on Cancer. Both have been motivational and hopefully Obama's pronouncement will lead to increased federal funding for cancer research. Most physicians and scientists, however, suspect that this remains a distant goal and an illusive dream.

  There is no doubt that major progress has been made. There have been a few home runs (thinking of Gleevac for CML and a few other rare cancers and a number of targeted therapies with Herceptin for her2positive breast cancer being the biggest winner), but mostly there is very slow, step by step, brick by brick, progress. It is wonderful to be hopeful, but the flip side is always disappointment and great discouragement when science can't deliver what the headlines have suggested.

  Here are a couple of good articles about this speech and the goal. First, from Scientific American,

Can We Truly "Cure" Cancer?

In one well-known episode of The West Wing a line about an astronomical effort to “cure cancer” gets cut
from the president’s State of the Union. In real life, however, someone wrote the speech that the fictional
president Josiah Bartlet never got to give.
On January 12 Pres. Barack Obama laid out an aspirational plan in his final State of the Union to “cure
cancer.” He did not put forth a specific time line for this effort or the metrics that would measure success
but did say that he was putting Vice Pres. Joe Biden in charge of “mission control.” And already, the White
House released information about several meetings in the coming month that Biden will hold to get the
ball rolling on the initiative.
Yet is such a goal truly achievable in the near future? Patients and doctors know all too well that cancer is
not one disease and there is no singular cure for the complex group of disorders. Biden did help secure a
$264-million cash infusion in the most recent government spending bill that will support cancer work at
the National Cancer Institute, but the obstacles to attacking cancer effectively are more than just financial.
“A cure is a long way off,” but the prospect for some specific cancers does look bright, says James Allison,
chair of the Department of Immunology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in
Houston. For his part, at least Allison was not surprised about the announcement last night, he says,
because the vice president himself called him and other researchers within the past two months to talk
about cancer research. And now, unlike even five years ago, a 10-year remission is realistic for cancers like
melanoma, which seemingly were unbeatable.

Read more:

And from NPR:

Doctors Respond To Obama's Ambitious Moonshot To Cure Cancer

President Obama's State of the Union address did not include a lot of big, ambitious
projects. Here was the one major exception.
BARACK OBAMA: For the families that we can still save, let's make America the
country that cures cancer once and for all. What do you say, Joe? Make it happen.
MCEVERS: Medical professionals, of course, have been trying to cure cancer for
decades. And to learn why they haven't so far and what it would take to make it
happen, we reached Dr. Bill Nelson. He's director of the Sidney Kimmel
Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. Welcome to the show.
BILL NELSON: Good to be here.
MCEVERS: What did you think when you heard President Obama say that in his State
of the Union address?
NELSON: I was thrilled and excited. I think to have the president of the United States
throw out a bold challenge to cancer researchers, physicians and one that, you know -
delivered directly to the American people, many of whom have been touched by
cancer, confronting the disease directly or with family members affected by it, I think
it's just a great day for us.

Listen or read more:


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