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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA center enjoys fall in cancer casualties

    While the national cancer death rates dropped by an average of more than 1 percent throughout the 1990s, a steeper decline in recent years has validated the efforts of cancer research and treatment advocates in the state of Arizona and across the U.S.

    From 1992 to 2001, the cancer death rate decreased by an average of 1.1 percent each year.

    Since 2002, that rate has dropped to 2.1 percent per year, according to reports from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Arizona has reflected those trends.

    Although the cancer incidence rate rose in 2006-2007, the death rate still dropped.

    The rise in cancer incidence can be attributed to a rise in population, said Donna Breckenridge, director of public affairs for the UA Cancer Center.

    While many factors may contribute to the drop in cancer-related deaths, new techniques and research methods could play a large role.

    The UA Cancer Center is at the forefront of much of the nation’s aggressive advanced cancer research and treatment. Several key drugs and groundbreaking medical programs have either originated or passed through the building.

    The center has also long been the standard in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    “”We’ve literally changed the lives of those living with lymphoma,”” said Dr. Thomas P. Miller, chief of hematology and oncology for the UA Cancer Center.

    These advancements are part of the reason the center has the fourth-highest grant funding among several nationally recognized cancer centers.

    The recent decrease in cancer deaths in Arizona and nationwide is proof that educational

    outreach programs have better informed the public about cancer and, most importantly, how to detect it before it becomes potentially fatal, Breckenridge said.

    “”If cancer is detected early, there is a better chance of curing it,”” she said.

    The decrease also is the result of a steady, slow-moving process that began several decades ago, Miller said.

    It began with the appropriation of funding specifically for cancer drugs and research by President Richard Nixon’s administration, Miller said.

    Researchers began searching fervently for answers to the most important issues, such as how cancers react with the body, what is unique about cancer cells and how to efficiently target these cells for treatment.

    What followed were decades of research and several years of clinical tests. These generations of funding, research and testing eventually culminated into the rapid growth of active quality drugs – drugs designed to treat cancer by complementing previous drugs’ advancements, Miller said.

    “”These years of science research are coming together,”” he said. “”It is actually a very long process.””

    There is some dispute over the accuracy and legitimacy of annual numbers associated with cancer research and treatment.

    Because of the presence of several outside factors, sometimes simply comparing two static numbers over the course of time is not enough to receive a definitive impression, Miller said.

    Breckenridge said the cancer incidence rate could be a skewed figure, since it can never truly document every individual with cancer.

    People who do not get checked for cancer may still have it, she added.

    Other outside factors not exclusively noted in research figures obscure the reality behind the numbers.

    Although the cancer death rate is falling, rates associated with the presence of thyroid cancer, ovarian cancer and liver cancer are on the rise. Miller attributes this rise to population growth and the rising life expectancy.

    “”Every man would have prostate cancer if they lived long enough,”” he said.

    The change in personal diets, air quality and environmental exposure are factors that also affect research numbers and how they should be interpreted, Miller added.

    Despite these acknowledgments, Breckenridge and Miller agree that cancer research and treatment are currently taking large strides toward clinical and drug advancements, both nationally and in Arizona.

    “”We still have a long way to go,”” Breckenridge said. “”What we’ve done so far is encouraging.””

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