How Advances in Cancer Research and Treatment are Moving Us Closer to a Cure

Appeared in:
Smart Business LA County

This year 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. And the lifetime probability of an invasive cancer is 44 percent for men and 38 percent for women. Thanks to significant advances and as well as a greater emphasis on preventive measures and healthier lifestyles, cancer diagnoses and deaths are declining.

To learn more, Smart Business spoke to Philip DiSaia, M.D., medical director, Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center and world renowned leader and researcher in gynecologic oncology; and Amanda Termuhlen, M.D., medical director of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, the region’s renowned pediatric cancer facility.

What causes cancer?

While causes are unknown, research helps us identify risks and cures. Since different cancers have different risk factors, understanding them helps with prevention. Controlling some risk factors — like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and getting plenty of exercise — helps reduce your risk of cancer. Other risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, family history and inherited genes, cannot be changed. Genetic counseling offered through Long Beach Medical Center helps patients determine their risk for diseases that may be inherited, including colon, uterine, breast and ovarian cancer. Families with a higher than expected number of cancer cases can benefit from our Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment consultation.

Why are the rates declining?

We are witnessing more effective diagnosis and treatment of major cancers. Screenings such as pap smears to detect cervical cancer, colonoscopies to identify colon cancer and PSA tests to determine the likelihood and treatment of prostate cancer are examples. Laws restricting smoking and education on its associated risks are stemming lung cancer. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce onset of cancer. Vaccines like those to prevent cervical cancer in women may be effective in other cancers as well. Emerging treatment technologies, techniques and drug discoveries continue to help us to more accurately treat cancer with fewer side effects.

Can we access these advances locally?

Todd Cancer Institute and Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center are dedicated to early diagnosis, research and treatment as well as education of patients with cancer or serious blood disorders. Through interdisciplinary treatment planning conferences, specialists review new or difficult cases and develop treatment plans suited to each patient’s specific needs. Our world renowned Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Radiation Oncology Center consistently achieves breakthrough results, using the most advanced technologies and therapies. In addition, cancer patients can access more than 100 ongoing cancer research protocols.

Working at the forefront of adult cancer management are our divisions of gynecologic, thoracic, breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, radiation oncology, genetic counseling services and robotic surgery. We were one of the first cancer programs to make individualized cancer therapy and targeted treatment a clinical reality.

What is the progress on childhood cancers?

Children that are between infancy and age 15 represent more than 10,000 new cases of cancers diagnosed each year. Prior to the 1970s, only half of children with cancer survived beyond five years following diagnosis. Today, that number improved to 80 percent, thanks to better cancer drugs, treatment, research and access to clinical trials. At Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center, we support advanced diagnostic tools and treatments with comprehensive psychosocial services and a multi-disciplinary care team that follows every cancer patient or blood disorder patient from the time of admission, through their hospital stay, and throughout their follow-up care in outpatient settings. And the integration of new research efforts into treatment plans allows our patients access to leading therapies.

What can we expect in the future?

Scores of cancer therapies and treatments are in varying stages of development as researchers continue to learn more about cancer cell biology and new treatments. Therapeutic vaccines hope to harness a patient’s immune system. Pharmaceuticals are being created to better kill tumors by cutting off their blood supply. Gene sequencing looks for specific DNA mutations that occur with different types of cancers. The ability to identify those mutations may lead to new treatments. Physicians are now using the knowledge gained by research to look at an individual’s family history and DNA to predict cancer risk. Personalized screening for those at higher risk will help detect cancer at its earliest signs. Doctors will be better able to customize treatment, choosing the most effective treatment and avoiding those that will not work.

How can employers help?

Employers can encourage their work force to take advantage of cancer screenings. Wellness programs can be as simple as ensuring worksite eating places and vending machines offer healthy food, sharing exercise tips and providing pedometers and wellness incentives. Businesses can partner with our cancer centers, which offer onsite education. This website provides a wealth of information on cancer prevention, screenings, diagnosis and treatments.

Philip DiSaia, M.D., is the medical director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. Amanda Termuhlen, M.D. is the medical director of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.