Has cancer, which has been described as 'the Emperor of all Maladies' finally met its Waterloo?
News Radio reports that new figures from the National Cancer Institute shows that the number of Americans who have died of cancer has fallen 26% since 1990, meaning there are 2.3 million Americans who are alive today who otherwise would not be were it for major steps in the War on Cancer in the past two decades.
Dr. Steven Kalter, an oncologist who has had a hand in that amazing statistic as a cancer doctor and researcher at San Antonio's START Center for Cancer Care, says the old-style idea that a cancer diagnosis is essentially a death sentence has gone away.
"What I have seen over the past thirty years, is there are very few patients with cancer, even with advanced cancer, who we can't help," he said.
Dr. Kalter says while cancer remains a deadly disease, more and more it is becoming like diabetes and high blood pressure, a condition which, while requiring treatment, a patient can live with and have a full and productive life.
He cites several factors for the amazing advances against cancer.He says on top are new technologists to identify many types of cancer, from breast cancer to colon cancer, earlier in their course.
"The earlier the diagnoses, the earlier the state at the time of diagnosis, leads to better treatment and better survival.Dr. Kalter also cites major advances in immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda, a drug developed partly at the START Center which has been approved for use against metastatic melanoma and esophogeal cancer. He says immunotherapies and targeted therapies, which train the body immune system to fight cancer rather than nourish it, have laid the groundwork for similar treatments in the future.
And he says the drop in cancer deaths involves both patients with cancer surviving and thriving with it, and many people who don't get cancer in the first place.
He cites an increased awareness of the dangerous of some types of personal behavior."People are realizing that they must smoke less, try to keep in better shape, be trim and do exercise, and then being careful with what they eat," he said.
Dr. Kalter is not ready to predict the end of cancer through a vaccine, much like the scourge or polio was eliminated in the 1950s, but he says these latest figures should show that cancer is on the run, and for coming generations it will not be the deadly terror that it has been in the past.
GRAPHIC: NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE