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Cancer Today

In recent months, cancer has made headlines in the national news. High-profile cancer cases, such as the recurrence and spread (metastasis) of breast cancer in Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, and the recurrence and spread of colon cancer in Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary, have helped to spur both public and media interest. Television specials and newsmagazine cover stories have helped show Americans how far we have come in the prevention and treatment of various cancers and how far we still must go to end their devastating effects. Much of that progress has been fueled by research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and, in particular, NCI.

More than 1.5 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2007. The more important news, however, is that survival rates for all cancers diagnosed between 1996 and 2002 is 66 percent, an improvement compared to the 1975–1977 rate (51 percent). This improvement in survival reflects significant progress in earlier diagnosis and advances in treatment.

An additional cause for optimism is the scientific evidence suggesting that approximately two-thirds of cancer deaths can potentially be prevented. Cancer deaths related to tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity, nutrition, sun exposure, and even exposure to infectious agents, such as hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, or helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that infects the stomach), could be prevented through changes in behavior, vaccines, or the use of antibiotics.

The National Cancer Institute is involved with research on all forms of cancer around the world.

"NCI supports over 1,300 clinical trials a year, assisting more than 200,000 patients," says NCI's Dr. Niederhuber. "And much of that work is carried out in our extramural research program — research that is conducted outside NCI in clinical settings all over the United States and in various parts of the world — totaling more than $2.1 billion this year."

The extramural research program reaches nearly 650 universities, hospitals, cancer centers, and other sites in the United States and in more than 20 other countries. Approximately 85 percent of NCI's budget funds extramural research.

2007 Estimated Numbers of New Cancer Cases and Deaths for Six Common Cancer Types

Cancer Type Estimated New Cases Estimated Deaths
Lung 213,380 160,390
Breast (Female – Male) 178,480 – 2,030 40,460 – 450
Prostate 218,890 27,050
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 153,760 52,180
Melanoma (Skin Cancer) 59,940 8,110
Gynecologic (Cervical, Endometrial, Ovarian) 72,660 26,350

Source: American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2007: NCI

Cancer Screening Tests

Screening tests can find diseases and conditions early when they are easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about which of the tests are right for you and when you should have them.

  • Colorectal Cancer Tests: Have a test for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Your doctor can help you decide which test is right for you.
  • Breast Cancer (Women): Have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years starting at age 40.
  • Cervical Cancer (Women): Have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you have been sexually active or are older than 21.
  • Prostate Cancer Screening (Men): Get advice from your doctor if you are considering having a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal examination (DRE).
  • Skin Cancer Screening: Ask your doctor to check moles, birthmarks, and skin pigmentation for signs of melanoma, especially if you have fair skin, a history of sun exposure, or a history of skin cancer.

Many authorities recommend that, after age 50, tests should include regular colonoscopy for cancer of the colon, serum prostatic-specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer, mammography for breast cancer, and enhanced lung CT imaging for lung cancer.

NIH Resources
This special section has been created in cooperation with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), including information for the public contained in The Nation's Investment in Cancer Research and NCI Cancer Bulletin, available at Additional content came from NIH News in Health and NIH Research Matters, both from the NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison. For contact information on NCI and other NIH offices and their specialized research areas, see the NIH Quickfinder.

Read More "Understanding Cancer" Articles
Understanding Cancer / Cancer Today / Survivability and Hope / Sam Donaldson: Tips From a Cancer Survivor

Spring 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 2 Page 5