Most Americans over the age of 60 remember a time when few dared speak above a whisper when discussing cancer. In retrospect, this makes sense. Just a few decades ago, any sign of a malignant tumor usually meant a terminal diagnosis. Since President Nixon first declared a “war on cancer” in 1971, researchers have made genuine breakthroughs, helping to decrease cancer death rates while increasing the sense that cancer isn’t a death sentence. As we marked World Cancer Day this past weekend, the state of the war on cancer is promising.
However, this isn’t a reason to rest on our laurels: despite our achievements, the road to innovative medicines is likely to get harder and various forms of the disease may well start to become more common. The progress we have made may only foreshadow a much more intensive fight against cancer that is likely to be characterized by small steps towards a cure and efforts to improve quality of life rather than focus on big breakthroughs alone.
Quite simply, the types of cancers that are becoming more common are a lot harder to treat than those forms we have come close to curing or turning into chronic conditions. Thanks to medical progress, few patients diagnosed with treatable skin, thyroid and prostate cancer die from it within five years of getting the news, while survival rates over a similar time period for breast, bone and kidney cancer top 75 percent.