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The Front Line


The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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Two Must-Read Reports for SWOG Members

February 3, 2017 - The National Cancer Institute just released its Cancer Trends Progress Report, and ASCO this week put out Clinical Cancer Advances 2017. Both are packed with statistics and trends that can inform our clinical trials.

The reports bring good news:

  • Fewer teens and adults are smoking, and more people are using sunscreen
  • People with cancer are living longer; Five-year survival is almost 69 percent for all cancer types
  • Fewer people are dying from the most common cancers: breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal
  • The FDA approved 8 new cancer drugs and 12 new uses of current cancer therapies between November 2015 and October 2016

    But they do track some troubling trends, too:

    • Rates of cancer risk factors obesity and alcohol consumption are both increasing
    • Significant cancer-related disparities persist along racial and ethnic lines
    • The numbers of patients struggling to pay for cancer care are rising
    • Adjusting for inflation, the NIH budget dropped 20 percent in the last decade

      The good news should inspire us, and the troubling trends might inspire us in a different way. They show many rich areas for future research in treatment, prevention, and survivorship. ASCO named “Immunotherapy 2.0” as the “advance of the year” and walked through the progress with immune checkpoint inhibitors which has driven so much optimism in the community. Of course, many questions remain. Why do fewer than half of patients who receive immunotherapy benefit? Why doesn’t it work in all malignancies? Can immunotherapies be successfully combined with targeted drugs – or radiation or chemotherapy? Only research, basic and clinical, can provide answers. On the other side, SWOG continues to advocate for increasing access to clinical trials and increasing funding for studies, and we support efforts by ASCO and other organizations to address the high costs of oncologic medications.

      We will continue to argue basic science and translational work matter. The ASCO report discusses, at length, how a better understanding of cancer biology has driven progress in oncologic treatment. According research cited by ASCO, 93 percent of people with a variety of cancers have an actionable genetic mutation that could be treated with an existing cancer therapy. That we know about these targets – and have the drugs to direct at them – is a huge potential triumph. Public funding also matters. Of all the advances highlighted in the ASCO report, 30 percent received funding from NIH or NCI.

      I was proud to see many SWOG members’ work referenced in the ASCO report, including research by SWOG statistician Dr. Joe Unger, and by Drs. Gabriel Hortobagyi, Antoni Ribas, and Roy Herbst. And the report was edited by our own Dr. Don Dizon and opened with a welcome from our own Dr. Dan Hayes, the outgoing ASCO president.

      To read the NCI report, go here. Read the ASCO report here. You’ll be glad you did.

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