In the New England Journal of Medicine recently an article summarized the progress made after 200 years of research into the origins and treatment of cancer. The real leap in progress has occurred since the 1960′s, when the structure of DNA was deduced. Starting in the 1970′s it became possible to manipulate DNA sequences to produce custom-made genetic material.
Only in 1975 did US government health agencies start tracking cancer statistics. In 1976 the first oncogene was discovered. Improvements in treatment, early diagnosis, and public health successes in reducing smoking led to the first recorded decline in incidence of cancer in 1990 and 1991 (breast and lung cancer).
In 2000, the human genome was sequenced and this now paves the way for the most important advances of the future, according to this article. Once it becomes possible to sequence the unique genetic makeup of every individual by affordable sequencing diagnostic tests, adults can get their genome sequenced before and after a diagnosis of cancer. Medical scientists can then determine where the genetic defects are that are causing the person’s cancer. A possible treatment can then be chosen from the growing list of targeted therapies that are being developed by pharmaceutical companies.
In principle, the combination of genomic sequencing and the availability of targeted therapy directed at certain genetic defects may make possible the dream of turning metastatic cancer into a chronic, treatable disease, rather than a death sentence.
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