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Fight against cancer an inexact science

Cancer.

The word still sends a chill down our spines despite the remarkable progress science has made against a disease that often carried an automatic death sentence. According to the American Cancer Society, the mortality rate has dropped more than 25 percent from its peak in 1991, thanks largely to a decline in tobacco use. But cancer will still kill roughly 610,000 people in the U.S. in 2018 (remarkably, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of death). The good news: Recent literature suggests that victory over cancer is imminent – if bureaucracy would just get out of the way.

Scientists need more flexibility to fight cancer

The government has invested roughly $100 billion in fighting cancer, but outdated rules and regulations impede research, according to Death of Cancer, an article summary on getAbstract. Pioneer oncologist Vincent DeVita, former director of the National Cancer Institute, writes that traditional research designs simply do not allow for the complex and flexible testing that’s required.

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DeVita explains that a revision of the National Cancer Act, enacted in 1971 by former president Richard Nixon, was underway earlier this century, but 9/11 reshuffled priorities and the revision fell by the wayside. That’s unfortunate, considering how much more science continues to understand about cancer and how to treat it.

Lifestyle changes can help the cancer fight

DeVita writes that chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy have had the greatest impact in reducing cancer deaths. In her article, A Radically Simple Idea Will Let Us Catch Cancer Before It’s Cancer, Kat McGowan states that 50% of cancer deaths would be avoidable with a healthier lifestyle. But until the population at large is willing to make those changes, early intervention, the development of drugs that enhance the immune system and new vaccines are the most promising methods for battling the disease.

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What’s next?

Almost everyone agrees that immunotherapy has enormous potential. The idea is to trigger the body’s immune system to fight active cancer or prevent precancerous cells from mutating. Immunotherapy has been very effective in treating certain cancers, but like other therapies, it can be unpredictable and risky.

In his article, Immune System, Unleashed by Cancer Therapies, Can Attack Organs, Matt Richtel suggests that while immunotherapy drugs often work wonderfully, science must study their toxicity much more.

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DeVita believes that the entire cancer research system needs an overhaul. He says oversight organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute exert too much control over research institutions. Science clearly has made incredible progress against this disease. The literature just makes you wonder how much further along the fight could – or should – be.

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