Cancer research: Where are we headed?

May is National Cancer Research Month

cancer research

In 1928, Sweden became the first country to issue a postage stamp commemorating the fight against cancer. On April 1, 1965, the United States issued its first anti-cancer commemorative stamp, pictured above. Source: Taub, Marvin. “Cancer Stamps: 50 Years in the Crusade Against Cancer Through Stamps,” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, v.28,no.3, May/June 1978, 164-169.

In 1971 President Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act which officially launched the “war on cancer.” It earmarked a budget of $100 million towards cancer research and the promise to find new treatments for the second leading cause of death in America at that time.

“One of the most important things that came out of the National Cancer Act is that we started to do a lot of basic science to study the disease … today cancer is thought of as a molecular disease within a cell, whereas in the old days, cancer was thought of as a disease of tumors of tissue,” says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

So where has this science taken us 44 years later? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer still remains the second leading cause of death after heart disease. However, all is not lost, we’ve come a long way in 44 years!

Unlike the 1970s, when hardly anyone who had cancer was considered a survivor, we now have more than 14 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is projected to increase as our baby-boomers age. While survivors are increasing in numbers, we have also made progress in cancer prevention though screening and early detection programs, specifically in colon and cervical cancer.

As Dr. Brawley’s comments above reflect, we have continued to advance our understanding of cancer at the molecular level. This knowledge in turn has led to new developments in targeted therapy, vaccine therapy and immunotherapy. Continue reading

From the ancient Greeks to modern medicine (part 2)

Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on cancer features U-M medical historian

cancer film logo.fwTonight, most PBS television stations in the U.S. will begin broadcasting “Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” — a three-night documentary film about all aspects of cancer.

University of Michigan medical historian Howard Markel was one of the internationally known experts interviewed for the film, and offered perspectives based on his knowledge of the history of cancer and key historical figures in the fight against cancer.

In Part 1 of our interview, he discussed the topic of cancer from the ancient Greeks to the early 1900s. Here, he looks at the modern era — and reflects on the experience of taking part in the film’s production.

Continue reading

Progress in cancer research and treatment

May is National Cancer Research Month

progress in cancer researchI often hear from callers “Why hasn’t cancer been cured?” It is true that a cure for cancer has not been achieved, but it is important to remember there have been major advances and discoveries in the treatment of cancer. Progress in cancer research and scientific discoveries have led to:

  • Decreases in the incidence of many of the more than 200 types of cancer
  • Cures for a number of these diseases
  • Higher quality and longer lives for many individuals who cancers cannot yet be prevented or cured

Unfortunately, research has taught us that cancer is anything but simple.

In 1971:

  • there were 3 million cancer survivors
  • 1 in 69 people was a cancer survivor

In 2012: Continue reading

U-M researchers develop new strategy for attacking aggressive cancer mutation

RAS-gene

Human KRAS protein. Mutant RAS proteins may play a role in one third of all human cancers.

Mutation of the KRAS gene drives up to 30% of all human cancers, and is especially prevalent among aggressive and hard-to-treat forms — like pancreatic, colon and lung cancers. For decades, researchers have tried to develop drugs to shut down the mutated gene, but a lack of success by pharmaceutical, biotech and academic laboratories has earned this cancer mutation a reputation for being “undruggable.”

New research conducted at the University of Michigan, however, offers a new strategy for disrupting the mutations’ unchecked spread — by attacking a protein complex that protects and supports it. The approach, detailed in a forthcoming article in Neoplasia[DI1] , comes as efforts to combat the mutation have been in the national spotlight. Recently, the National Cancer Institute announced a $10 million-a-year initiative to target KRAS, for which it is repurposing a new high-tech lab at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research. Continue reading

Running with my hero to stomp out sarcoma

"We finished in just under 38 minutes, amazingly not last!"

Dr. Leja and Maire

Dr. Monika Leja with Maire Kent at Sunday’s Stomp out Sarcoma run.

I ran with my hero today! It would be a breeze for most 24-year-olds like my patient Maire Kent to take part in the Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K run and be first at the finish line.

But Maire was diagnosed with a cardiac sarcoma in 2012. Cardiac sarcoma is a rare malignant tumor that grows directly from the heart.

The condition has taken its toll on her and there was no way she would have the stamina to run the three miles even though a few years ago she ran a marathon. So I agreed to cover the distance for both of us, pushing her in a wheelchair decked out in maize and blue.

At one point, Maire had to help push us along the last hill because I was running out of gas in the heat.  Together we made it to the finish line. This gives us hope that working together we can overcome this deadly disease!

The money raised Sunday, through the dedication of volunteers, supports research at the Sarcoma Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

There are many different types of sarcomas that attack bone, muscle, fat, or cartilage. Most of these patients are young and in the prime of their lives and many are even small children.

I grew up in Michigan, and returned to be part of the University’s new Cardio-Oncology program. More of these programs are starting across the country and cardiologists like me work with cancer specialists to minimize the impact of chemo and radiation on the heart.  The U-M’s program is unique in that we also have the expertise to care for those with heart tumors.

During our long work weeks, physicians can get caught up in the daily grind of medical records, rounds, and meetings. Sometimes we forget why we are here:  the privilege of taking care and being a part of our patients’ lives and families.

This summer has been no different in term of work hours but time spent on behalf of patients has taken me from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center to the trails winding through Hudson Mills park.

Today I was pushing Maire, but she and the many other patients and families out there, are pushing me to find answers and improve outcomes.

Ironically we finished several paces behind Anne Maxwell, a 25-year-old from Clarkston diagnosed last spring with a sarcoma found in her hip. Anne ran this weekend, not just in Sunday’s Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K, but in a 15K Bastille Day run the day before.

Maire is my hero and she keeps me going with her courage and smile. We finished in just under 38 minutes, amazingly not last!


 

leja

 

Monika Leja, M.D., sees patients in the Cardio-Oncology program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.  She treats cardiac tumors and collaborates with cancer specialists to prevent or minimize heart damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

 

UMHS 180 logo

 

The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.

 

 

 

Collaboration and Innovation will defeat Cancer

logos for the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer NetworkIf you’ve visited the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s website, or happened to read a news article about the Center; you may have noticed we have an association with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network; (NCCN).  What you may not know is the importance of these associations – particularly as it relates to cancer treatment and research.

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, supports and coordinates cancer research projects conducted by universities, hospitals, research foundations and businesses in the United States as well as world-wide.  In turn, the NCI collects and shares information about cancer treatment and research.  As an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center – one of only 41 in the country — the U-M Cancer Center has the opportunity to represent the needs of our community in the national dialogue. We also have access to national and world-wide research collaborations – as well as the opportunity for our own research to receive funding.   Our NCI funding has allowed our doctors and researchers to explore promising new ways to make cancer care less toxic, more compassionate and more effective.

The NCCN is a not-for-profit alliance of 21 of the world’s leading cancer centers dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of cancer care.   One of the NCCN’s most significant projects is the clinical practice guidelines.  The guidelines offer treatment, prevention, detection and supportive care standards that can be used by patients, doctors and other health care decision-makers.  Our doctors are at the table helping to determine the best practices in cancer care. By standardizing these methods for treating and preventing cancer, the NCCN ensures quality care for cancer patients nationwide.

Becoming a U-M Cancer Center patient means your treatment will follow the latest and best guidelines that have proven effective over rigorous study. But more than that – your U-M health care team belongs to a collection of the best cancer providers in the country, providing the best care to you and your family.