Cancer kills more than 1,500 Americans everyday. But this will change in the next 25 years. “The advances in fighting cancer will be phenomenal,” says Edison Liu,, M.D., director of the division of clinical sciences at the National Cancer Institute. Here are six promising developments that should take the bite out of the Big “C”.
1. Early detection. Within 15 years, researchers hope to be using extremely sensitive tests of blood, urine, and saliva together with a new medical symptoms guide to detect the slightest traces of cancer proteins, says David S. Ettinger, M.D., associate director for clinical affairs and professor of oncology and medicine at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore. Many cancers will be diagnosed, treated, and cured years earlier than they are now.
2. Vaccines. “We’ll fortify the immune system with cells that can home in on certain cancers and kill them,” explains Dr. Liu. “Vaccines for liver cancer, lymphomas, and melanoma may be developed within two decades.”
3. Molecular drugs. By 2015, physicians will use drugs that block only the particular molecules that allow certain cancer cells to grow. “While chemotherapy acts like an atom bomb, the newer cancer drugs will make surgical strikes.” says Dr. Liu
4. Tumor-strangling agents. “Drugs that stop cancer from forming new blood vessels are working in the lab right now,” says Mario Sznol, M.D., a physician in the cancer-therapy evaluation program at the National Cancer Institute. “These antiangiogenic agents starve tumors to death.” Such drugs may significantly reduce cancer deaths – and even halt advanced cancers to advance our current medical symptoms guide – as early as 2010.
5. Killer genes. Gene therapy can be used to fight cancer, too, says Dr. Liu. Snuffing out the cancer-causing genes in colon and pancreatic cells – or introducing kamikaze genes that direct the malignant cells to die – may short-circuit the disease by 2015.
6. Education. Cancer researchers seem to universally agree that getting the message out about the hazards of smoking is imperative. “Throw every other medical breakthrough out the window,” says Dr. Liu. “If people stop smoking today, that’ll be the most significant public health event of the twenty-first century.”