The 40 Years’ War

May 19th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

Subjects:

Two years after the US put a man on the Moon, Richard Nixon announced a heady new goal: to cure cancer by 1976, America’s bicentennial.

isitcuredyet?That festival came and went, as did the Millennium, the next target date that had been set for eradicating the scourge.

Now the Big O, who can understate the word “understate,” has vowed to find a cure for cancer “in our time,” and people are starting to wonder if even that is possible.

In fact there’s been only a 5% drop in age-adjusted cancer death rates since 1950.

Over the same period, death rates from cardiac disease and pneumonia/flu dropped 64% and 58%, respectively.

Funding has not been the problem. The National Cancer Institute has burned through $105 billion since Nixon declared war.

That doesn’t count spending by other government agencies, universities, Big Pharma and philanthropies.

Is cancer that much of a bear, or are we making fundamental mistakes in prosecuting the war?

Probably both. Cancer is a bear, or more accurately a thousand different ursine species. Cancer of the breast has, at our current levels of understanding, remarkably little to do with, say, cancer of the kidney.

A common weak link shared by all cancers may indeed not exist and if not, we have a long way to go, indeed.

But it’s also true that our research agenda has been driven by fads: cancer viruses, vaccines, genomics and promoters, and in some cases advocacy groups have commandeered research agendas in pursuit of these fads to the detriment of all.

OKHowaboutnow?In addition, investment in basic research, the kind that can fundamentally change treatment approaches, tends to lose out to less risky applied research.

“That is the biggest threat,” Robert Young told the New York Times.

The Fox Chase Cancer Center oncologist explained that “every organization says, ‘Oh, we want to fund high-risk research.’ And I think they mean it. But they don’t do it.”


 

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