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The Culprit is Cancer

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Fall 1998
The Culprit is Cancer
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END GAME
By Judith C. Gasson, Ph.D.

Cancer was a death sentence less than 27 years ago when Richard Nixon declared War on Cancer.

Today, the statistics remain staggering. Half the men and one-third of the women in this country will develop cancer. By the year 2000, cancer is expected to be the nation's leading cause of death.

Annually, some 550,000 people in the U.S. die of cancer. That's about 50,000 more deaths in a single year than were suffered by our armed forces in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.

Are we losing the war on Cancer?

No, we are not. Currently, more than half of all Americans with cancer are being cured. Early detection now makes many breast, prostate and colon cancers curable by surgery. Three- quarters of all children with leukemia are cured, thanks to advances in chemotherapy and radiation. The same goes for testicular cancer in adults. And with proper screening, colon cancer could be a preventable disease.

At the beginning of the War on Cancer, we did not know our enemy. When it came to technology, we simply didn't have the powerful weapons that are available to us today. Now, we are winning the war in research laboratories. Remarkable advances in molecular biology, genetics and epidemiology have revealed many of the causes of cancer.

Cancer is a genetic disease, caused by mutations in our genes that occur over a lifetime of exposure to things like tobacco, chemicals and sunlight that are elements of our environment. When mutation occurs in genes that normally control the processes of growth and mutation of cells, those genes don't function properly. Over time more mutations accumulate, and tumors form. Then, by definition, we have cancer.

In the past year alone, progress in fighting cancer has been phenomenal. In a nationwide trial, a nearly 50-persent reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease was achieved through use of the antiestrogen tamoxifen.

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