According to a new report from the American Cancer Society, cancer rates continued to decline last year. The report estimated that advances in cancer screening and treatment prevented more than 1 million total deaths since 1991.
Despite that statistic, researchers in Oklahoma and throughout the world are continuing their efforts to stop the disease, which the report estimated will claim 580,000 American lives in 2012.
“Cancer remains one of our country’s leading killers,” said Paul Kincade, Ph.D., who heads OMRF’s Immunobiology and Cancer Research Program. “But as we improve our understanding of the disease, we are discovering ways to prevent some forms of cancer and improve treatments for others.”
Cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body and it can occur almost anywhere. Kincade, who holds the William H. and Rita Bell Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF, studies cells in the bone marrow related to leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
“It’s not that the cancers themselves are any less deadly, but the treatments and tools used to diagnose many cancers have improved over time,” he said. “Public awareness helps, too. People are curtailing behaviors like smoking, and they’re more vigilant about screening, which can be key to successful early treatment.”
To improve clinical outcomes, researchers sometimes must study processes that are seemingly far removed from the disease. In the Cell Cycle and Cancer Biology Research Program at OMRF, scientists are working to uncover the causes of cancer in one of the most basic biological functions—cell division.
“As cells die in our bodies, new cells have to be made to take their place,” said Gary Gorbsky, Ph.D., who holds the W.H. and Betty Phelps Chair in Developmental Biology. “But the process isn’t always perfect, and when a cell separates too soon or too late, genetic damage can occur that can lead to cancer.”
By better understanding how cancer begins and what unique properties cancerous cells share, scientists can develop therapeutics that target and destroy cancer with minimal collateral damage to healthy cells.
“The more we’ve studied cancer, the more complex it seems,” Gorbsky said. “We’ve made some great strides in cancer research and treatment, but there’s still a long way to go.”