Cancer, AIDS and Biomedical Research
J. Donald Capra, THE JOURNAL RECORD
For the first time since statistics have been kept, we are now seeing a perceptible decrease in the death rates from cancer in the United States.
Many factors have contributed to this remarkable turnaround: better diagnosis, better treatment, and a better understanding of the role enviromental agents play in the development of this disease.
For example, while we have known for more than 30 years that cigarette smoking was strongly associated with lung cancer, it has been only relatively recently that we have appreciated that cigarette smoking is related to increased incidences of several other cancers as well -- cancer of the lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach and colon. Additionally, it has taken three decades of public service campaigns in the media to make the public aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking. Finally, since cancer as related to cigarette smoking occurs after years of exposure to cigarette smoke, it would naturally be many years before we would see a fall in cancer rates because of smoking cessation programs. Scientists and physicians now see cancer as fundamentally different from smallpox, polio or other viral-type diseases. In the case of polio, for example, three viruses cause the disease. Thus, vaccines could be prepared that prevented infection. We now understand that cancer is many diseases, with the common denominator being the uncontrolled growth of cells. Even the cutting-edge genetic approaches are more complex than we first believed. Rather than there being a single or a few genes that predispose one to certain cancers, we now apprecate that there are literally hundreds of genes that are involved in various stages of cancer initiation, progression and metastasis. …