50 Years of Milestones in the Fight Against Cancer
Today people can live for years with some forms of cancer; other forms of cancer can be cured.
By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson
For every milestone in cancer research, there are countless men and women to thank. Through their creativity and dogged determination, people have hope in preventing, living with, even curing some forms of cancer.
Here are just a few of the milestones in the war on cancer, and some of the researchers who made them:
Cancer Prevention Study I begins. Study will eventually be the first to link cigarette smoking to early death from lung cancer.
Judah Folkman, MD, of Harvard University discovers that tumors create a network of blood vessels to bring them oxygen so they can grow. He calls this process angiogenesis.
The first cancer-causing gene, or oncogene, is discovered.
Also during the '70s:
Surgeons begin studying lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy as an alternative to radical mastectomy.
Among those visionary breast cancer researchers: Bernard Fisher, MD, director of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, and Umberto Veronesi, MD, researcher with the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy. Both launched long-term studies of these techniques.
Learn more about recent breast cancer research milestones.
Learn more about monoclonal antibodies and other cutting-edge cancer treatments.
Tamoxifen is approved by the FDA for treating estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Researchers develop and carry out the first trial of tamoxifen to prevent recurrence in breast cancer survivors.
Scientist discovers the p53 protein, later found to be the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer.
Early detection guidelines are set for breast cancer.
Judah Folkman's team finds the first angiogenic factor, paving the way for new drug development.
Dennis Slamon, MD, discovers that the HER2/neu receptor is overexpressed in 15% to 30% of breast cancers and is an unfavorable prognostic feature.
The race is on to discover more angiogenic factors to suppress the growth of tumors. A team of scientists discover VEGF in 1989. Folkman discovers angiostatin and endostatin in 1991.
Cancer-causing agents in the environment -- such as radiation from the sun and chemicals from cigarette smoke -- became more closely linked to specific gene damage that can cause cancers.
The rate of smoking drops from 45% of the population in 1946 to 25% of people.
Exercise found to reduce risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.
Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, shows that a Mediterranean diet rich in tomato sauce and olive oil may help prevent prostate cancer.
Irinotecan is approved for treating advanced colon cancer.
Scientist reports that selenium reduces the risk of lung, colon, and prostate cancer.
Researchers clone the gene for telomerase, an enzyme believed to be specific for cancer cells.
Judah Folkman, MD, and Timothy Browder, MD, cure cancer in mice by blocking the blood supply of tumors with angiostatin and endostatin (anti-angiogenesis). Testing of the anti-angiogenesis drug Avastin begins in people.
FDA approves monoclonal antibody therapy (Rituxan) for B-cell lymphoma. By 1998, the overall five-year survival rates for the disease are improved to 58%.
Scientist reports that tamoxifen reduces the incidence of breast cancer by 45% in high-risk women, the first successful study of treatments to prevent breast cancer.
Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, shows that a genetically engineered monoclonal antibody called Herceptin improves survival of women with advanced breast cancer. FDA grants approval of the novel drug to treat advanced breast cancer.
Scientists turn a normal human cell into a cancer cell with three defined elements: an oncogene, inactivation of two suppressor genes, and the gene for telomerase.
Cancer incidence and mortality rates continue to decline.
The draft sequence of the human genome is announced.
A team of scientists announce that the combination of chemotherapy with p53 gene therapy caused tumors to shrink in 25% to 30% of head and neck cancer patients.
Researchers report that an experimental monoclonal antibody, IMC-C225 (will become Erbitux), is effective in the treatment of refractory colon and head and neck cancers.
After three years of study, arsenic (Trisenox) is approved as an orphan drug for treatment of patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). Orphan drugs treat rare medical conditions; manufacturers receive financial incentives to develop such drugs.
The Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex is approved by the FDA for the prevention of colon cancer polyps in individuals carrying a specific gene that causes familial adenomatous polyposis, a form of colon cancer. In April 2005, the FDA asked that Celebrex carry new warnings about the potential risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as potential stomach ulcer bleeding risks. Clinical trials for prevention of sporadic colon cancer and other cancers are ongoing.
Researchers report that the first human clinical trials of endostatin (an anti-angiogenesis drug) show that it is safe and may have anticancer potential.
Researchers report that IMC-C225 plus the drug Camptosar produced a response in colorectal cancers resistant to standard treatment in phase II trials. IMC-C225, later renamed Erbitux, is a monoclonal antibody that slows cancer growth by targeting a protein found on the surface of some cells called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). EGFR plays a role in regulating cell growth.
FDA approves a new hormone therapy drug, Femara, to treat advanced breast cancer.
Judah Folkman, MD, predicts cancer will be "treatable" within the next decade.
DNA microarray technology (gene chip) is successful in predicting which node-negative breast cancer patients will go on to develop metastasis and thus benefit from aggressive adjuvant therapy.
Researchers announce a new screening test for colon cancer that detects specific genetic abnormalities in stool samples of up to 70% of patients with colon cancer.
Study shows that Avastin improves survival for people with advanced colon cancer.
Learn about these two major cancer advancements.
FDA approves Erbitux to treat colon cancer.
Avastin becomes the first anti-angiogenesis drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of colorectal cancer. Other anti-angiogenesis drugs are in the pipeline for approval.
Originally published Feb. 26, 2004.
Medically updated April 12, 2005.
SOURCES: National Cancer Institute. The National Foundation for Cancer Research. The American Cancer Society. Johns Hopkins University. WebMD Feature: "Cutting-Edge Breast Cancer Therapy."
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