Conquering the Complexities of Cancer


Since 1971, when President Nixon declared that we have a “War on Cancer,” the public has sometimes wondered if we are winning the war. With time, we began to understand that conquering this disease is far more complex and challenging than we could have ever imagined.

Despite its complexity, many positive signs of success in the fight against cancer are all around us. The National Cancer Institute recently announced encouraging 10-year declines in death rates for men, women, and children in their "Annual Report to the Nation." And for four weeks in March and April, UT Southwestern was part of a KERA radio series on the unique challenges of young people who have been treated for leukemia.

The series featured patient stories and interviews with Drs. Patrick Leavey and Ted Laetsch from UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center. The KERA series was an advance promotion of the Ken Burns film “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” which aired nationally on PBS.

This film reflects the developments we have witnessed of cancer discovery through clinical trials and the application of new therapeutics. Completion of the human genome project in 2000 had a tremendous impact on our understanding of biology – what makes cells grow or perish, how they are related to each other, and how we can influence their behavior.

As a result, cancer treatments are becoming more personalized. The “one size fits all” approach to chemotherapy is a thing of the past. Now, each patient is carefully evaluated to determine the specific treatment – or combination of treatments – that we believe will be most successful.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the FDA approved 10 new oncology treatments during 2014, bringing the total of approved therapies to 170. Another 800 potential therapies are in various stages of development. Every day, researchers are discovering more about cancer, creating tools to better attack its complexities.

This is what makes UT Southwestern special. We offer our patients the combination of current cancer-fighting strategies – genetic testing, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and bone marrow transplants – paired with world-renowned researchers who are the vanguard of future cancer treatments.

The American Cancer Society has tracked the number of cancer survivors for decades. Their research tells us that more than 14 million people in the U.S. are currently cancer survivors. And there’s more good news: More than two-thirds of cancer patients survive for five years after diagnosis, compared with half in 1975.

We like those odds, and we will continue to improve the odds through persistence, dedication, and discovery.

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