By Elizabeth Fernandez | USCF.edu | June 25, 2012
Cancer medicine must depart from a one-size-fits-all tradition, and move instead to targeted treatments, said cancer expert Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, during a congressional forum this week that focused on cutting-edge cancer research and treatment.
McCormick, director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, was part of a top-tier panel of expert witnesses at an event held by the Senate Cancer Coalition in Washington, D.C. It was the first public gathering convened by the non-partisan organization in almost a decade. The hearing served as a platform to examine how breast cancer research has led to the development of more personalized approaches to better detect, treat and prevent many types of cancer.
“In 1971, it was presumed that cancer was a single disease and perhaps there would be a single cure. This turns out to be not the case,’’ McCormick said. “Probably at least 200 different diseases, cancer is caused by thousands of mutations in a very complicated manner…each of these different types of tumors requires different types of treatment. For example, we have learned that there are at least seven different types of breast cancer. And with further research, we are likely to discover that there are even more.’’
In his presentation, McCormick explained that advances in understanding cancer at the molecular level — especially the discovery that cancer is caused by changes, or mutations, in genes that control normal cellular function — have set the stage for a new era in cancer care including an array of surgical and pharmaceutical options now available to patients.
Now scientists must move into the realm of precision medicine, he said, in which treatment is based on the specific characteristics of individual patients and their tumors in which an individual’s genetic makeup or specific molecular markers of their disease help to determine the course of treatment.
“This is one of the most promising new approaches in modern cancer treatment,’’ said McCormick, president of the American Association for Cancer Research, the world’s oldest and largest cancer research organization.