Accelerating Progress vs Cancer

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ASCO in ActionAt the opening press briefing and throughout ASCO’s 47th Annual Meeting, presenters marked the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act by highlighting the significant progress made in cancer treatment over the past 4 decades, the major challenges ahead, and new research models to find better treatments faster.

NCI Director Harold Varmus, MD, said the National Cancer Act was a clarion call to make bigger investments into federal agencies devoted to health. The Act led to greater investments in clinical trials and cancer research and set the stage for many advances in understanding retroviruses, genomics, and cell biology. “The notion 40 years ago was that cancer is a disease we could win or lose against. Now what we are doing is not waging a simple war against a single enemy, but trying to make progress against a vast array of diseases that dictate changes in cell behavior,” Dr. Varmus said.

“Since 1971, the average 5-year survival rate for all cancers has increased by 18%, and since its peak in 1991, the overall cancer death rate is down 17%. Today, two out of three patients with cancer live at least 5 years after a cancer diagnosis, said George W. Sledge, Jr, MD, Immediate Past President of ASCO (2010–2011) and the Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. “This progress has occurred not by chance, but through many decades of public and private funding of cancer research. Sustained investment in cancer research will continue to offer hope for patients worldwide,” he said.

To demonstrate the progress, ASCO launched a dynamic website featuring an oncologist-curated, interactive timeline of major milestones in cancer research in several common cancer types. The new site, CancerProgress.Net, is designed to be a “living” site where new advances and information will be added in real time.

Forging Ahead

“We are continuing to find the best ways to use the therapies we have based on greater knowledge of how they work, while at the same time, we’re forging ahead to test new treatments that match the specific molecular profiles of each patient,” said opening briefing moderator Richard L. Schilsky, MD, Past President of ASCO (2008–2009), Professor of Medicine and Chief, Section of Hematology-Oncology, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and Deputy Director, Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Chicago.

Attended by nearly 100 reporters, the opening press briefing highlighted two abstracts that tell the story of the progress that is being made:

  • New Chemotherapy Regimen Boosts Event-Free Survival for Children and Young Adults With ALL: A randomized phase III Children’s Oncology Group study shows that a high-dose methotrexate regimen is superior to the standard regimen of escalating methotrexate for children and young adults with high-risk B-precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This regimen improved 5-year, event-free survival and had no greater significant side effects compared to the standard regimen. The trial establishes a new standard treatment for these patients.
  • Innovative Model That Matches Targeted Drugs to Tumor Aberrations in Patients with Advanced Cancer in Phase I Clinical Trials Proves Feasible and Often Improves Outcomes: A major personalized medicine initiative at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that matching patients in phase I trials with targeted drugs on the basis of the molecular profiles of the patients’ tumors resulted in longer survival and time to treatment failure and better response rates compared to treating patients without molecular matching. ■

© 2011. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All Rights Reserved.