On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution

On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution

James Sterngold

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 1610392523

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1950, a diagnosis of cancer was all but a death sentence. Mortality rates only got worse, and as late as 1986, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine lamented: “We are losing the war against cancer.” Cancer is one of humankind’s oldest and most persistent enemies; it has been called the existential disease.

But we are now entering a new, and more positive, phase in this long campaign. While cancer has not been cured—and a cure may elude us for a long time yet—there has been a revolution in our understanding of its nature. Years of brilliant science have revealed how this individualistic disease seizes control of the foundations of life—our genes—and produces guerrilla cells that can attack and elude treatments. Armed with those insights, scientists have been developing more effective weapons and producing better outcomes for patients. Paul A. Marks, MD, has been a leader in these efforts to finally control this devastating disease.

Marks helped establish the strategy for the “war on cancer” in 1971 as a researcher and member of President Nixon’s cancer panel. As the president and chief executive officer for nineteen years at the world’s pre-eminent cancer hospital, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, he was instrumental in ending the years of futility. He also developed better therapies that promise a new era of cancer containment. Some cancers, like childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that were once deadly conditions, are now survivable—even curable. New steps in prevention and early diagnosis are giving patients even more hope. On the Cancer Frontier is Marks’ account of the transformation in our understanding of cancer and why there is growing optimism in our ability to stop it.

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium

All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse

Not Your Ordinary Housewife: How The Man I Loved Led Me Into A World I Had Never Imagined

Every-Day Dress-Up

Eisenhower: Soldier and President

The Locust and the Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘fault’ in the National Cancer Program. Rather I may be sensing a realistic and I believe undesirable by-product.” False hopes could be devastating for our cancer research, which was already facing skepticism. That would be the case for many years, as people waited impatiently for cures in the hope that we could finally reverse the tragically high, and rising, cancer death rates. We were being measured, criticized, and prodded, and this would go on for years. (In 1986, for instance, a fairly

disease. Each new problem we faced had led to a string of new molecular conundrums that taxed our scientific understanding of the cell. But by 1980 we knew that we had stopped the unlimited proliferation of cancer cells in test tubes with a chemical that did not kill healthy cells. It was a start. 78 1610392525-text2.indd 78 12/18/13 12:27 PM seven THE POLITICS OF CANCER RESEARCH V IRUSES ARE LITTLE MORE THAN primitive, if crafty, bundles of genetic material in protein sheaths—

letter unexpectedly inviting me to travel to Teheran to meet with the shah of Iran and offer advice on building a modern medical school and a major cancer center. Columbia University’s president, William McGill, and I flew to Iran in December. When we arrived, we were whisked 85 1610392525-text2.indd 85 12/18/13 12:27 PM ON THE CANCER FRONTIER through passport control and driven to a luxury hotel. Our suite was amply stocked with champagne and caviar and had a lovely view of the snowcapped

laboratory research, innovative clinical trials, and prevention research. In early 1972, the National Cancer Institute initially designated the first three centers: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. By 1974 a number of others were added, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chicago, and the Sidney Kimmel

One of the great achievements in the war on cancer is that, today, we routinely perform genetic analysis of tumor cells to identify the mutations as well as aberrations in how the genes express themselves. Had we found those distinguishing characteristics in Patient 4’s cancer, we would have known at the least who would be most responsive to HMBA by identifying this abnormality in other patients. Instead, the drug now sits on the shelf as one of many near misses. Science magazine recently

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