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Cancer patients excited about new treatments

March 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
New cancer cases have dropped steadily since 1996. Despite major breakthroughs in treatment and prevention, cancer still affects 1.5 million Americans. About a third of people diagnosed don't survive. Experts say researchers are finding success with promising treatments every day.Jan Andus, 58, is about half way through her six week radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer.

Hearing the big "C" word didn't scare her as much she thought it would because she's optimistic about all the latest treatments.

"It didn't seem like it was a fateful kind of thing," said Andus.

The American Cancer Society says $100 billion in federal research money over the past 40 years is paying off.

"We are going to be able to treat in a way that is much more effective," said radiation oncologist Dr. Paul Song. "We can be greedy and not just kill the cancer, but also make sure that we do not leave the patient with real significant and long term deficits."

Dr. Song says the greatest achievement has been in the area of cancer prevention.

"What we do know is that the overall incidence of cancer dropped over the last five to six years because of the decrease in tobacco use," said Dr. Song.

A new form of radiation therapy holds the promise of longer life for people battling lung cancer.

Dr. Bernard Lewinsky is studying a non-surgical cancer treatment in which a number of highly focused radiation beams deliver potent doses. Instead of 33 treatments, patients only receive three.

"We are able to pin-point the location of the tumor," said Dr. Lewinsky. "We are actually able to deliver the dose to that area very accurately."

Stereotactic radiation surgery was successful in controlling the primary lung tumor in nearly 98-percent of patients.

"There are many more avenues today then there were in the past," said Dr. Lewinsky

Andus says it's never good to hear the word cancer, but she's glad she got a diagnosis at a time when medicine can offer so much.

"The tests and the treatments have progressed a lot to the point where we have a lot more hope," said Andus.

Stereotactic radiation surgery for lung cancer is only offered in clinical trials. Researchers conclude that cancer is a complex and highly adaptable disease. And the number of new cancer cases will increase due to an aging population. The new goal should be to step up cancer prevention and reduce incidence rates.