The Longest War
With an all-out assault against the war on cancer for nearly 50 years, the greatest myth may be that there is a single enemy with one war to fight. The location of the battle – breast, lung, colon cancer, for example – and available arsenal have historically determined the treatment strategy.
But the more researchers probe, the more they discover – mutations, genes and pathways that create thousands of enemies for hundreds types of cancers.
Reorganizing Our Thoughts on Cancer
Imagine one day, then, that treatment of an individual’s cancer is as unique as the person who has it. This is personalized medicine.
In The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, author Siddhartha Mukherjee explains, “Every patient’s cancer is unique because every cancer genome is unique … Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.”
Researchers are adapting the way they think about the many “types” of cancer as understanding of specific cancerous mutations, genes and the makeup of cancerous cells increases.
“Instead of breast cancer, lung cancer, bone cancer – the organ of origin – we’re now talking about the molecular classifications; B-RAF mutated cancers, for example. And those molecular classifications can occur in almost any organ, theoretically, although they prefer to be in certain organs,” says Susie Jun, M.D., Ph.D., vice president, development head, oncology and translational medicine, AbbVie StemCentrx.