For many of us, a new calendar year means that we make resolutions—lose some weight, quit smoking, exercise more. These are but a few of the positive steps that we can take to reduce risk factors for developing cancer and the co-morbidities that can accompany such a diagnosis. The year 2010 offers the prospect for both a healthier year and a healthier decade. And for those of us in cancer research and cancer care, it is a huge opportunity to advance our work to understand the underlying causes of the disease and improve upon current prevention, detection and treatment strategies.
According to the most recent report compiled by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, we are off to a good start. Rates of new cancer diagnoses and rates of death from all cancers combined declined significantly between 1999 and 2006 for both men and women across most of the US population. The drops are driven largely by declines of new cases and rates of death for the three most common cancers in men – lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers – and for two of the three leading cancers in women, breast and colorectal cancer.
I believe that the decline in diagnoses and death from cancer points to success in nationwide efforts to reduce cancer risk, detect cancer early and translate the most cutting-edge laboratory science into treatments for patients. This is of course very good news. But I agree with John E. Niederhuber, MD, Director of the National Cancer Institute, when he reminds us that we must not remain content with this decline. Rather we should recommit and renew our efforts to optimize screening, diagnosis, and treatment for all our citizens.
Progress against certain types of cancer has been limited. Cancer types for which no screening exists, such as esophageal, liver and pancreatic cancers, are still difficult to detect and treat and carry a high mortality rate. Tantalizing clues exist for the etiology of some of these cancers. In particular the role of infectious agents in liver and esophagogastric cancers is an area of great interest because it brings the potential of prevention to the mix. Sadly for still other cancers like melanoma, incidence is actually increasing although we know well how to prevent this cancer by limiting sun exposure. And while it would be wonderful if weight management and smoking cessation were enough to control risk factors for cancer, we know that’s not the case – why certain people develop cancer while others never do has driven cancer research for years and will continue to do so in the future.
This new decade brings so much hope. Cancer diagnoses and deaths from cancer are down, while funding for cancer research is slightly up. I speak for all members of the community of cancer researchers and care providers when I say that we at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter are resolved to build on the excellent progress made in the last decade towards a cancer-free future for everyone.
Nancy E. Davidson, MD