President Obama gave his final State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago. One of his key points that stuck out to me was when he made the call “to make America the country that cures cancer once and for all”. President Obama’s challenge was much like President Kennedy’s years ago when he challenged America to be “the first to set foot on the moon”.
In the days following President Obama’s address I’ve read several articles about the need to increase funding for cancer research and the desire to improve technology to better treat cancer. There’s value in research and there’s benefit to better understanding how and why cancer occurs as it does.
I’m worried that we are losing sight of the battle in hopes of winning the “war on cancer”. More research and better technology are important but so is doing better with what we can control and current technology. Cancer is a terrible disease though we’re much better treating it today than we were even 25 years ago. Over the past quarter century, the US has reduced cancer mortality by 20%. Great strides have been made in the treatment of cancers of the prostate, breast and colon just to name a few. We’ve also made strides by not treating at times as well because we’ve realized lifespan isn’t affected.
Yet there continues to be cancers like, Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma or ACC, that have no cure or hope of treatment and a diagnosis is terminal. Like most reading this blog post, my family has been affected by cancer as my mother passed away from ACC exactly eight years ago this week.
Like you, I want a cure but I also believe we can do better while the search for a cure continues. Prevention is an area that we can do a better job. Smoking is a primary cause of cancer as is obesity. We can do more to prevent both. The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for cancer. We can also invest more to better understand behavioral and environmental causes of cancer.
Better utilization of current technology can happen tomorrow. No cancer is standard which makes it difficult to standardize treatment but we can do a better job learning from the more than $90 billion we spend on direct cancer care each year. A national database and repository would be a great start. Most places treating cancer utilize an electronic health record. Patient information could be de-identified and findings could be used to improve outcomes. The information is there – someone smarter than me just needs to figure out how to pull it out and examine it.
I’m all in for the trip to the moon but there’s a lot to do on the drive the launch pad.