Monday, September 1, 2008

Alive, With Cancer

Alive, With Cancer

Cancer is not a death sentence. The nearly 10 million survivors throughout the United States are living proof. Unfortunately, this stereotypical characterization of the disease is alive and well.

In the early 1970s when little was understood about the disease and treatments were limited, survival was considered a coin toss—at best a 50/50 chance. As if that was not bad enough, patients were sick from toxic anticancer drugs and radiation, and their bodies were often mutilated from radical surgical procedures. These images sadly still cast shadows over the amazing discoveries and triumphs of the last decade.

Today, scientists and clinicians understand that cancer is a disease of genetic mistakes, both inherited and acquired. We can screen for some of them with the goal of preventing the disease from occurring, and if it does occur, we now have treatments that specifically target these errors, eliminating many of the side effects. Breast-sparing, nerve-sparing, and speech-preserving, are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the cancer surgeries performed today. They are surgical techniques that remove tumors while preserving dignity and quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, survivorship is on the rise, with steady increases noted over the last three years. Adjuvant therapies, combined therapies, clinical trials, and prevention trials are all examples of advances that have helped tip the scales so that now there are more people alive with cancer than dying from the disease.

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