by Deborah Cornwall, Cancer Advocate
Part 2: Cancer’s Global Reach and Efforts to Fight Back
Cancer isn’t just a North American problem, but a global one. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), worldwide cancer incidence is rising from 14.1 million new diagnoses in 2012 to a projected 21.7 million in 2030 as a result of population aging. In addition, incidence and death rates could rise even faster in low- and middle-income countries that are adopting Western lifestyle habits (with their associated smoking, high-fat diets, reduced exercise, and infection problems); impacts are severe since many of those countries lack the medical resources and healthcare infrastructure to properly diagnose and treat the flood of diagnosed patients. The complexities of addressing such a cancer epidemic require multiple strategies, and many of them require research, collaboration, and information. They’re interconnected.
- Epidemiological research: To define the scope and nature of the problem and where it is. Geographic areas differ in their cancer incidence patterns and the prevalence of particular variants of the disease.
- Public education: To determine from that research what the public needs to know to prevent cancer or to detect it early enough to permit effective treatment.
- Scientific and clinical research: To make progress in cancer control and treatment.
- Infrastructure resources: To facilitate sharing of tissue samples, scientific progress and discoveries.
Subsequent short articles will address each of these for readers who want to learn more. This article deals with what’s happening globally in the area of scientific and clinical research.
What Can Science Do to Stop Cancer?
There are (at least) three cancer organizations active on the international research front. Among them, the leaders are:
The European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) is a membership organization with over 10,000 members from 101 countries worldwide. Its goal is fostering communication and collaboration among cancer researchers through scientific meetings and seminars.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is a 100-year-old academic research center that is a full college in the University of London. A key strength of this organization is that they share information about scientific developments from across Europe. ICR not only supports strong scientific clinical research to advance science, but it also has strong engagement strategies for relating to corporations and to the general public, encouraging students to pursue cancer research as a career, and intensifying the public dialogue about cancer issues. They also share research papers that reflect multidisciplinary team science projects.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the largest funder of cancer research in the US. It engages in bilateral cancer research partnerships (for example, with Russia, South Africa, Turkey, and the Caribbean) and tobacco research and capacity building programs that are unique to low- and middle-income countries and particular geographic regions.. It also supports technology initiatives for introducing mobile health technologies into those countries or regions and measuring their impact. Finally, it attempts to build local cancer research capabilities, both epidemiological and clinical.
Finally, the American Cancer Society (ACS) does a large amount of epidemiological research in-house and is the largest private funder of “extra-mural” (outside academic and institutional) scientific and clinical cancer research. The ACS’ particular focus is on supporting the work of young researchers who have breakthrough ideas but aren’t senior enough to win grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI). Among past grant recipients are 47 Nobel Prize winners. ACS will be promoting greater sharing of what’s learned and promoting collaborations it seeks to double its research funding and make an even greater impact on the global cancer epidemic within the next five years.
Through formal and informal collaborations, research institutions and investigators around the world are helping to train the next generation of researchers and are sharing research learnings in an effort to accelerate progress and intensify the benefits for patients. Dominant trends feed both treatment and prevention strategies for public health promotion and planning.
- Development of new vaccines that will prevent certain cancers, like the HIV vaccine prevents a large proportion of cervical cancers. These, when integrated into strong public health campaigns in less developed countries, can have a significant impact on cancer incidence and mortality.
- Genetic analysis of tumors to personalize treatment to the patient’s unique genetic make-up.
- Immunology: New treatments that trigger the immune system to fight the disease or that change the cell chemistry and metabolic factors that allow certain cancers to thrive.
- Improved understanding of the underlying biology of cancer, allowing manipulation of the cellular environment in which the cancer grows and metastasizes.
- Evolving imaging technologies that provide more accurate information about the location, density, and aggressiveness of cancer cells.
- Deepening investigation of the impact of environmental factors as causal or aggravating factors in cancer incidence and mortality. Such studies will enrich public health policy with empirical evidence.
Sharing of tissue samples through “biobanks” and the emergence of “big data”—the booming data processing capacity to process thousands of cancer tissue sample and anonymous medical record data to draw conclusions— are two trends that will help advance the ball in terms of understanding fundamental cancer biology and developing new therapies. Those trends will be addressed in the third article in this series.
Read Part One: What and Where is the Problem?
Read Part Three: What Resources do Researchers Need?
Read Part Four: What Does the Public Need to Know?
A legislative advocate and speaker with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, Deborah J. Cornwall is the author of Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out and Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids.