Throughout the 2016 calendar year, the American Cancer Society expects that 1.68 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, the second-leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease. The breast is the site of the body where the greatest number of new cases are expected, with a potential for more than 249,000 new cases, although the digestive system is expected to have the largest number of cancer cases for any body system with a potential for nearly 305,000 new cancer cases. By the end of 2016, it is expected that nearly 600,000 people will die from some form cancer.
It is against this backdrop that World Cancer Day returns for its sixteenth annual day of recognition for those surviving the disease as well as research activities into finding a cure for the many types of cancer which affect people all over the world. February 4th was officially selected as World Cancer Day in 2000 as part of the Paris Charter adopted during that year’s World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium. The day of recognition is intended to remind the world of the Paris Charter’s objectives for benchmarking progress against cancer worldwide, creating a global research organization and mobilizing public opinion, among other objectives.
2016 might be a great year for redirecting a focus onto what needs to be done to turn cancer from a worldwide killer into a condition which is manageable and preventable. As we’ve covered recently here on IPWatchdog, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a new ‘moonshot’ investment initiative into cancer research during his recent State of the Union speech, which will be directed by Vice President Joe Biden. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already receive about $5.5 billion per year in funding for cancer research and it’s possible that we could see even more funding resources made available in the coming months and years.
The theme for the 2016 version of World Cancer Day is ‘We can. I can.’ This tagline, which will serve as the slogan for the 2017 and 2018 editions of this day of recognition, intends to educate people how they can contribute to the fight against cancer both collectively and individually. Individual efforts are important because nearly one-third of all cancer deaths are attributable to five behavioral and dietary risks: tobacco use; alcohol use; high body mass index; low dietary intake of fruits and vegetables; and low physical activity.
The high cost of cancer treatment may also be placing a financial stress on patients that can contribute to higher rates of mortality. Results from a recent study on the effects of the cost of treating cancer and its burden on patients found that patients with prostate, colon or thyroid cancers who went broke during treatment had an 80 percent increased risk of dying compared to those patients who could handle the financial burden. In some cases, treatments for ailments like stomach cancer can range from $800 up to $57,000, so it’s possible that some patients may want to ask their doctor about all treatment options to choose a medication for which they can afford a full course of treatment.
There has been steady progress made in the history of treating cancers of many types since the administration of former U.S President Richard Nixon, according to Dr. Boris Pasche, the Director of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Pasche oversees operations at the cancer hospital, which is ranked #1 in the southeast (#17 in the nation) by U.S. World and News Report and designated as one of the nation’s 69 National Cancer Institute’s cancer centers. “For some diseases, the success has been dramatic,” Pasche said, citing high survival rates for childhood leukemia and testicular cancer. Other cancers have proven to be more difficult, including gallbladder and pancreatic cancers.
“In my opinion, government should embark on bold new initiatives in cancer treatment,” Pasche said. He did note that, while what President Obama says as a statesman doesn’t change the humbling reality that many cancers have so far stumped medical scientists. Nevertheless, increased investments into cancer research have dramatically impacted survival rates. Over the past decade, most cancers show a better outcome than they did ten years ago. “The return on investment is palpable,” Pasche said. Incremental research has helped in well established fields of medical research but it has shown limitations in addressing cancer effectively. “Bolder initiatives with disruptive approaches to cancer are in order if we want to make leaps forward more quickly,” Pasche said.
It’s an investment that, in terms of real dollars adjusted for inflation, has gone down over the past five to eight years. Since federal funding to the NIH doubled during the administration of Bill Clinton, funding for cancer research has remained stable but hasn’t increased with inflation. Pasche says that awards for cancer research are less than what they were in 2000 in real dollars. “That creates a steady decrease in the availability of funding for cancer,” he said.
In our recent coverage of President Obama’s call for a ‘moonshot’ initiative into cancer research, we argued that an infrastructure for cancer research that could create success from increased funding levels already exists, thanks in large part to the academic sector and the private sector’s ability to commercialize their innovations, made possible by the Bayh-Dole Act. Indeed, it is not hard to find medications and treatment methods targeting cancer which have been pioneered by American universities. For example, U.S. Patent No. 9238064, titled Allogeneic Cancer Cell-Based Immunotherapy, protects an immunotherapy which involves administering a type of cancerous cell designed to promote a specific immune system response in a patient, a technique developed at the University of Miami. The University of Nebraska was recently issued U.S. Patent No. 9233121, titled Compositions and Methods for the Treatment of Cancer. The technique of tracking stem cells with cancerous properties can help in the treatment of all cancers. The University of Southern California was granted U.S. Patent No. 9234018, titled Compositions and Methods for the Treatment of VprBP-Related Cancers, protecting a method of treating cancers by inhibiting the activity of an important nuclear protein. There’s even already a good atmosphere of collaboration among some academic research facilities, as is evidenced by the issue of U.S. Patent No. 9238040, entitled Chemoprevention of Colorectal Cancer by Mesalamine/Sulfasalazine, assigned jointly to Rutgers University and the University of Iowa Research Facility. The treatment could help prevent colorectal cancer, the third-most common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer related deaths in America.
Around the world, cancer researchers and survivors alike are taking their own initiative in increasing the attack on cancer and celebrating successes in the battle thus far. The South Wales Evening Post, published in the UK, has asked its readers who are cancer survivors to share images of themselves punching the air on Twitter with the hashtag #IBeatCancer to improve cancer awareness and inspire current patients. London-based cancer research and awareness facility Cancer Research UK will solicit donations from British citizens in four cities through a series of 16 contactless donation terminals operated by volunteers. In India, this year’s World Cancer Day occurs about the same time as the beginning of a nationwide campaign entitled Get Set Go Orange that will seek to increase the database of potential blood stem cell donors to help patients suffering from blood cancers and other disorders. Medical researchers in India are also making a push to establish a comprehensive national database for cancer, which would improve the ability to formulate national policy on preventative and therapeutic measures.