There is good news that your doctor needs to share with you. The incidence of cancer deaths in the United States is continuing to improve. This is despite what we are hearing about the difficulties with our health care system.
Your physicians are contributing to these improved outcomes and advances every day and what was true a few years ago will be different tomorrow as the advances continue.
Why are winning?
The answers are many and not always simple. New and better screening for cancer is important in breast, cervical, colon, skin and prostate cancers.
Advances in screening will improve as new techniques begin to bear fruit.
Understanding populations at especially high risk, such as those with inherited cancers also help physicians apply screening wisely.
Fortunately, we are also making advances in treatment of cancer.
For instance, surgical advances have allowed surgery to be less invasive and to be associated with improved cosmetic results. Radiation has become more targeted allowing higher doses to be given safely.
Scientific advances are also yielding some exciting new and promising results.
We now have two agents that target human epidermal growth factor in certain breast cancers and one of these has also been found to be useful in certain stomach cancers.
There is now an effective immunotherapy for a childhood cancer called neuroblastoma.
Only a few years ago there were almost no effective treatments for kidney cancer.
Today, there are at least four targeted therapies and two effective chemotherapies.
Lung cancer is also showing improved survivor rates because of the decline in the number of smokers, better detection and staging and improved therapies.
In this disease, we have learned that there is a role for adjuvant treatments and that maintenance of effective treatments can improve survivor rates.
Finally, look for continued interest in strategies to prevent cancer in the first place. An exciting advance is the ability of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent the risk of certain HPV infections and cervical cancers in uninfected women at ages up to 45 years old.
It would be fantastic to see this devastating disease eliminated as a public health issue.
Visiting your doctor is a great opportunity to review these advances, practice screening and prevention and be proactive in your health.
Dr. Steve Roshon is a board-certified medical oncologist at North Coast Cancer Care.