The most talked about cancer stories of 2011

The face of cancer care in 2011 changed in encouraging and – in some cases – challenging ways. Here are some of the cancer stories that captured the most press attention in 2011.

  1.  A federal task force recommended against routine testing of healthy men for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which can be a sign of prostate cancer. However, Dana-Farber’s Philip Kantoff, MD, called the message “misguided” and said that oncologists are using the test to find those who may benefit from screening and treatment.

2. Researchers compiled a complete genetic map of prostate cancer for the first time, an achievement that may expand understanding of the disease and lead to new treatments. The work is already providing insights into the disease, according to a team led by Levi Garraway, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute. Scientists have uncovered alterations in tumors that prevent the body from making proteins that suppress cancer growth. Other findings may eventually allow scientists to tell whether a cancer is slow-growing or aggressive, an important key to determining the best treatment options.

3. The FDA approved new drugs targeting genetic abnormalities in lung cancer and melanoma, reflecting what oncologists say is a promising new era of highly specific cancer therapies.

4. A major study showed that the aromatase inhibitor drug exemestane (Aromasin) cut the risk of developing breast cancer by more than half, without the side effects that have curbed enthusiasm for other breast cancer prevention drugs.

Still, the drug could be a tough sell. The women have only about a 2 to 3 percent risk, individually, of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next five years, said Eric Winer, MD, head of Dana-Farber’sBreastOncologyCenter. A prevention pill that cuts that chance by 65 percent means they’ll have about a 1 percent risk, he added.

5. Low-dose spiral CT scans of current or heavy smokers reduced lung cancer deaths by 20 percent compared to standard chest X-rays alone, a decade-long study found. The federal study established that the specialized CT scan is the first validated screening test that reduces lung cancer mortality. “This is probably the most important thing to happen in lung cancer in a decade,” commented Bruce Johnson, MD, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology.





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