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New Cancer Breakthroughs

New cancer drugs are showing very promising results. Some say it’s the beginning of a new era in cancer treatment — and prevention.

Scientists have developed new and surprisingly effective treatments for cancer that have doctors chattering -- and patients crossing their fingers. (AP)

Scientists have developed new and surprisingly effective treatments for cancer that have doctors chattering -- and patients crossing their fingers. (AP)

The headlines on cancer treatment are very arresting lately. On lung cancer, skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer -– talk of breakthroughs and new understanding.

Talk of a new era. Almost all of it goes to a closer genetic understanding of individual tumors and how to target them.

A million and a half Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year. About half a million will die from malignancies.

We’ve waited and hoped so long for a cure that we’re wary of breakthrough talk.

But something new is happening.

This hour On Point: a new era in tackling cancer.

- Tom Ashbrook


Dr. George Sledge, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Ron Winslow, health & sciences deputy bureau chief at the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Stephen Hodi, director of the Melanoma Treatment Center at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Katherine Harmon, a health reporter for Scientific American, who has written about the connection between cancer and cell phone use.

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  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    I saw Dr. Sledge on The NewsHour last night. This is great news and he’s an excellent messenger.

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    For those interested, here’s the NewsHour piece on this:


  • Yar

    I would like to hear a discussion on the publicity arm of cancer research.  It seems to me it is organized to increase funding and keep expectations high with the carrot that a cure is just around the corner.

  • Stillin

    Hmm. My mom died of ovarian cancer in 97. One doctor at Tucson Med Center said “We’re going to cure you Mrs.______”, the other, ” Mrs. ___you need to make the arrangements for your death”. I am not kidding. My little brother died in 99 of a beneigh tumor on his neck, did not live through rehab it was too much of an operation. My own beliefs are cancer is big business, and it’s probably partly environmental partly how you digest your life…meaning, come to terms with all your decisions and try and stay healthy. I do not get health exams I don’t ever want to be told anything about it. period.

  • Tina

    I just heard about a CLINICAL TRIAL that uses THREE CHEMO DRUGS SIMULTANEOUSLY.  AVASTIN is one of them.

    With METASTATIC BREAST CANCER, I was so happy!  Perhaps I could ask my doctor for this trio of drugs.  Then I read that THE GOVERNMENT WILL BE HOLDING MEETINGS TO DETERMINE IF THEY WILL TAKE AVASTIN OFF THE MARKET.

    WHERE DO I GO TO PLEAD THE CASE FOR AVASTIN??  Perhaps it might not meet the promise ALONE; but TOGETHER WITH OTHER CHEMO MEDS, it might help!  

    Trying to open a stuck window two weeks ago, I hurt my arm.  It winds up it is THREE NEW LESIONS.  I don’t see WHY THE GOVERNMENT WOULD REMOVE ANYTHING FROM THE MARKET — they should just not let it be sold as being capable of what it is NOT capable of; but perhaps future treatments might include GROUPINGS OF MORE THAN ONE CHEMO DRUG, so KEEP AVASTIN, and others, ON THE MARKET!


  • Beth

    My mom died last year of metastatic melanoma, and did not have the BRAF mutation; she had to rely on immunotherapies that ultimately did not work. However, I’m starting to have hope that by the time a lesion pops up somewhere on my pale skin, I’ll have a better chance of survival than she did.

  • Maria A Tx

    My 58 year old father died in November of advanced prostate cancer. After a few years of treatment it became clear that his super educated, highly paid doctors at Dana Farber were simply guessing. They would say, “we’ll try this and see how it works…” They administered regular full body scans but stopped at his head because they knew prostate cancer rarely spreads to the brain. He was told in October it had in fact spread to his brain and dead a month later, despite the fact that for months they had told him he was beating the cancer. He received annual exams leading up to his diagnosis but doctors failed to recognise the original, significantly large, tumour until it had spread throughout his body.

  • Freeman

    Tom, Tom;
                   Great subject; would however appreciate looking at this objectively. Cure ? Pouring money down a “rat hole”. Turning medicine into a vast money generating machine. Big government doing everything it can  to poison its people. No ,I am not a cynic, just relating what a “specialist” conveyed to the public. One renown  Doctor addressing the Altisim explosion expressed that our immunity systems are becoming “nul an void” or impotent. Please address the causes and you will find the cure. Amazing the number of Cancer solicitations I receive EVEY year.
    Oh , I am forever appreciative at what medical professionals do to keep me healthy and free from pain, albeit we ALL eventually surcome to “King Death”.

  • Kim

    I am a fortunate recipient of this “new age” targeted therapy..as a young mother of 4 children; I was diagnosed with the her2 type of breast cancer… with mets to the liver and all 4 lobes of my lungs.  That was 7  1/2 years ago…because of the monoclonal antibody Herceptin…I have had 7 years (and counting) of No Evidence of Disease….researchers?  You Rock!  Thank you!  Life is good!

  • Finnbarr Dunphy

    Tom, cancer will always be tampered with around the edges; it will never be cured because it’s too big of a cash cow. I have worked for years as an editor/proofreader for a bio-research scientist, who has been working miracles curing cancer, but not with the usual chemo, etc. The whole medical world has pursued him mercilessly for decades and finally driven him out of the country—why? Because he is a threat to the income stream. We’ve been having “breakthroughs” for eons, but no real change has been achieved. This is the sad truth, Tom, and avoiding the topic won’t make it go away.
    Finnbarr Dunphy, Columbia, SC 

    • Harrison King

      Finnbar brought up a sad truth – apropos, companies benifiting from desperate people buying their double-edged sword (without the cost).
      I believe that accurate and consistent molecular and chemical interactions are a part of the solution. It has the weight of destruction; however, it’s difficult to target. Nanotechnology, bioelectricity and biocompatability should be of equal, if not of more interest for the medium of on-the-fly sequencing, controlled action and colony formation flowing throughout the bloodstream as indetectable as 1/100 of a cell, speculated.
      I doubt we will completely map chemical interactions before be develop this promising high-tech industry.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Finnbarr, are you prevented from letting us in on what sorts of non-income-producing things you have come to learn about?  

  • Anonymous

    The question is the cost. If the drug cost 100K a year and you’re not working because you are ill who pays for this? If you’re working and ill but are in the medium of say about 50 to 75K a year and you have health insurance how does this work? I think this is wonderful news but the the subtext to this discussion is how health care is paid for and right now it’s not working at all.

    • Jeffreysc

      Medicare, medicaid, private insurance, out of pocket; that’s how everything gets paid for.  But your point is a good one.  Unless the government is going to get in the business of discovery, testing and production of new cancer therapeutics; I don’t see how the money issue doesn’t create different medicine for different people.

      • Sofia

        The government is already in this “business.” They provide grants through the National Institutes of Health that fund the basic research. I think the govt should take a cut of all new profits, since they provided the seed money to help establish labs and research that has led to some progress in fighting these cancers. 

        That said, they do NOT fund the research that might investigate dietary and environmental causes of cancers. We know, for example, that people with celiac disease (bad reaction to gluten from grains in the diet) are prone to develop colon cancer. Widespread population-based studies have yet to be done on this and other enviro- diet-stimulated genetic predispositions to cancerous conditions.

    • Ellen Dibble

      I think different levels of medicine are inevitable.  When my insurer boasts about doing breast reconstruction, I’m thinking that in order to pay for care that might be essential for me, I’m also paying for the provision of care that is what I’d call level-III.  When I heard the doctor today talking about not wanting to be part of such a system, I’m thinking that a researcher for you.  Doctors who won’t tell you costs — “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” 
          To some extent we have this division built into the current system.  We provide emergency care for anyone who walks in a hospital.  To some extent, our taxes/insurance — our pool — provides this base level to everyone.  
          A much more cost-effective system would provide cost-effective treatment to all, but not level III care.
           I’d define level III care (which could be purchased as level III insurance) as care for what the doctors today were defining as “self-inflicted” in this case cancers.  It is pretty tough to prove, however.  If someone wrecks their own liver, or has unprotected sex, or sits in the sun at certain latitudes — where does it stop?  if someone insists on experimental treatments instead of palliative treatments in order to eke out another 6 months in a nursing home, hence boosting the cost of Medicare — see Julie Rovner’s report on those stats on Morning Edition NPR today — this is the kind of decision that has to be made.     

  • Steve

    can the new tests identify patients who would not benefit from additional chemotherapy and who should receive only supportive and palliative care?

  • Dhaselkorn

    Have there been any advances in treating Inflammatory breast Cancer reported at the conference?

  • Logan Runger

    Zytiga (abiraterone acetate): My father “beat” prostate cancer 10 years ago with seed treatment. Now he’s 79, and after 3 escalating PSA readings, a MRI and bone tissue sample show metastastisized legion in his hip. Any thoughts on new drug Zytiga for treating this? Thanks!

    FDA page on Zytiga:

    • Tina

      Logan, I have breast cancer that has metastasized to my bones.  Initially, the most painful part was the area of my right hip.  Eventually, I had a total hip replacement operation.  I am writing to you to let you know that, depending on the exact area of the lesion, any pain your dad feels may become excruciating.  When I called to make the appointment for the operation, the doctor said, “oh, they always call when they just can’t take it anymore!”  I don’t think that the outcome is any worse if the operation is performed earlier, so let your dad know, please, that as bad as the pain might be, it can become unbearable (I couldn’t sleep more than 1 hour and forty minutes at a time, because excruciating pain would wake me up; I angled my bed so that I was almost sleeping standing up to take the pressure off the lesion — I didn’t want to take more medication than necessary for the pain, because I knew I wouldn’t need it after the operation).  So, your dad may want to talk to his doctor about arranging an operation (again, if we are talking about specific regions of the hip) SOONER THAN LATER if the pain is already remarkable, especially because the doctor’s schedule might not allow an immediate operation.  Best wishes!

  • Donnie Brasco

    There will be no talk of a Congressman who sends nasty pictures of himself to strangers.

    • JimmyKl

      if only they could create a drug to treat that!

  • Cynthia in New Mexico

    Six years ago, my mother had the good fortune to be on vacation in Boston when she had a seizure and discovered she had a brain tumor. The amazing doctors and medical staff at Massachusetts General Hospital were able to do genetic testing on her brain cancer – an oligodendroglioma. They told her that the deletion of two arms of chromosomes 1 and 19 indicated that she would likely respond very well to her chemotherapy. That has turned out to be true, and I think that having that positive information at the time of diagnosis was huge for her.

    • Tina

      Cynthia, can you explain what you mean  by “the deletion of two arms of chromosomes… indicated that she would likely respond very well to her chemo…”?  Do you mean that the doctors REMOVED THOSE TWO CHROMOSOMES, or do you mean that she was missing them from birth?

      I am happy for your mom, you and your family!  

      • m2d

        DOn’t know this specific situation, but can say it’s impossible to remove two arms of the chromosome.  Chromosomes carry the DNA in every cell nucleus of the body.  She likely had a mutation (change) in her genes that made the treatment more effective for her than others.  This would have occurred at birth.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Aren’t there different kinds of estrogen, some of which (estriol?) are not carcinogenic.
        I’m thinking post-menopausal women have a lot less estrogen than pre-menopausal women anyway.  I view medicines in general as adding to the toxic challenges to my body, and so I do what I can to invest in building my own immune system, though I have every risk.  I am so glad I didn’t get roped into the Tamoxifen trials a couple decades ago.  Along that line, soy milk boosts the kind of estrogen that my body seems happy with, and apparently women in Japan as well.  There is some discussion whether one kind of soy versus another is good versus bad.  

  • JasonB

    I’m a scientist and I think this study about cell phones posing a risk of cancer is bad science. The results don’t appear to have any real significance and serve only to freak people out. 

    • Anonymous

      The show was not about that.

      • Ellen Dibble

        You missed the last five minutes, then, geffe.  

    • Ellen Dibble

      I drew the opposite conclusion from the cell phone results:  That the science has proven that cell phone use has practically no effect.  I don’t think anyone sees zero effect from machinery so close to you, functioning machinery.  There are bracelets with   tourmaline in them, necklaces with titanium, germanium; there are magnets designed to affect who knows what, acupuncture designed to nudge channels of energy immeasurable to western science, etc., etc., etc.  If measures of the effect of cell-phone to the ear over LONG times are so small, I’d cross that off my list of worries altogether.  I’d get an ear plug in order to free up my hands.

    • SafeTodayNotSorryTomorrow

      First,  the WHO said, it is ,possible‘, now they say ,perhaps‘, but tomorrow they could be saying ,probable‘. 

      Depending on who paid for the study we have different outcomes as to the damage of telephoning with a mobile telephone. Some say it is dangerous and some say it can be dangerous, but it hasn‘t been proven. WHO concluded ,perhaps‘ it could be dangerous. Now they warn: Intensive telephoning can be dangerous. 

      The message is a compromise telling us in an inoffensive way that phones are harmless. This is a result of the officials choosing the studies and information that fit their concept. They are ignoring the studies (Reflex Study) that question how could the waves cause a tumor. 

      So for the man on the street they recommend to telephone as little as possible and then with a headset. It‘s better to be cautious today instead of waiting for the future results. 

      • Ryan_hennings

        You body is ~70% water or you can say ~70% hydrogen.  Cell phone waves are not even energetic enough to ionize hydrogen.  So how is it going to alter healthy cells in the body?

        Answer…it’s NOT!

  • Ellen Dibble

    Hearing about self-inflicted cancers being most common, I decided to check out something.  Here’s a link.  http://www.heavymetalsymptoms.com/?page_id=77
    I searched heavy metal toxicity cancer.  I’m not surprised to see metals mess with DNA.
        What does concern me is that this is NOT self-inflicted.  For example, where I live, the collapse of many old residences with lead paint due to tornadoes has led to concern for air quality.  Not to mention several smokestacks belching such things.  But does the EPA consider cause and effect?  No.  Particularly, it seems the powers that be are blase (blazay) about this.   There is a cure available, a cure of such safety that it passed from patent and profit about 1960 (for coronary and stroke issues), and is available in an OTC manner (over-the-counter; you pay for it yourself).  You pay for the screening (about $500 for physician and labs), and then maybe $10,000 for cure (replacement of silver mercury amalgams and EDTA/DMSA chelation).  No insurance covers it, but it addresses a host of conditions which otherwise totally baffle physicians.  I was 55 before I got the specifics I needed, and it took me another decade to get where I could afford the treatment.  If you’re earning about $25,000 a year and paying $10,000 for regular health insurance (that cost partly because I had had metasized breast cancer in 1992 and had to be self-employed, in charge of my own time and environment), this kind of thing happens.   I am sure 99 percent of those thus afflicted will become drug addicts, with MDs throwing one useless drug after another at the badly dysfunctional individual, rendering them less and less functional.
         Why?  No profit in it.  Unfair.  Oh, unfair.

  • shannon

    I”d like to correct something one of the good doctors said – speaking of the way we talked about type 1 diabetes years ago he mentioned that it was called “malignant diabetes” before we had the kind of treatments we have today, which I believe.  However, then he mistakenly said that we’ve “solved that problem” with technology.  This mistakenly implies that type 1 diabetes has been cured, which it hasn’t.  Certainly, i’m grateful for my AND my daughter’s sake that type 1 diabetes is very treatable, but we STILL must live with the disease and MANAGE it well in order to remain healthy.  WE should be careful when talking about all chronic illnesses to distinguish between “treatments” and “cures.” 
    I wonder – can anyone tell me if we have actually found a “cure” yet for any disease?  I don’t mean prevention as in vaccinations for polio,etc.  but a cure that absolutely eradicates the disease in every patient.  I don’t know of any such cure.

  • RM Guy


    Please forward to that asshole MD that War on Cancer was Nixon’s term, 40 years ago.

  • Osullivan

    The new melanoma drugs are totally amazing. Skin Cancer: fastest growing cancer in adults in the USA (and world where good records are kept). Pre 2000, less than 4% of people with stage 4 survived. Today it’s upto 16%. With the CTLA-4/IL2 based treatments it could be ~30%. This is amazing progress within 10 years for a cancer than is a silent killer, ultimately preventable (by good sun-block, shelter etc) and very metastatic.

    On a cautionary note: these melanoma drugs induce a massive immune response that brings the patient near to the brink of death…. it’s simply awful but if it works the recovery is 100% (The founder of Apple, Paul Allen had it and is doing great now!)

  • Anonymous

    SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., June 6, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Nasdaq:SNSS)
    today announced the presentation of the adaptive study design for its
    Phase 3 VALOR trial of vosaroxin in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at the
    Trials in Progress Poster Session of the 2011 American Society of
    Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. The poster
    (Poster #48G), entitled “Adaptive design of VALOR, a phase 3 trial of
    vosaroxin or placebo in combination with cytarabine for patients with
    first relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia,” is available on
    the Sunesis website at http://www.sunesis.comRead more: http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/company-news-story.aspx?storyid=201106060730primzoneusprx___223717&title=sunesis-announces-presentation-of-adaptive-study-design-for-vosaroxin-phase-3-valor-trial-in-aml-at-asco-2011-annual-meeting#ixzz1Ocm4woSY

  • Anonymous

    Town Hall » Actuarial study anticipates, supports recent findings on lung
    cancer screening.   http://www.healthcaretownhall.com/?p=3248

  • Ann Fonfa

    But will the Pharmaceutical industry produce drugs that impact fewer people (to personalize treatment).  Seems like we need to lower drug costs and that wil not fit the current formula.
    And as a cancer patient advocate, I have suggested for years that we absolutely must acknowledge the value of the non-patentable approaches including nutrition, exercise, supplements, relaxation and more. As the founder of http://www.annieappleseedproject we urge further understanding of CAM and Integrative treatments.

    • chriswirth

      Ms Fonfa, the encouraging news I heard, Dr. Slegg(MD), & Ron Winslow come to the realization we have to restructure our healthcare system, due to the cost of tx. 
      I have an idea that pays for the cost of insurance and tx.  
      Need knowledgeable colleague to bounce ideas off of….   

  • G_kudachi

    I have read a lot of literature on cancer prevention and treatment through increased Iodine intake. Potassium Iodide is usually given to people with radiation poisoning, yet we seldom hear about Iodine insufficiency as a risk factor for developing cancer. 

  • Stuart williams

    Why isn’t any one mentioning The Burzynski clinic? They have pioneered Antineoplaston Therapy. This treatment targets cancer cells without destroying normal cells and has been proven through clinical trials to have cured every form of cancer.

  • Lorrainerasmussen02

    Was there discussion at the conference about a supplement called Calcium D-Glucarate for preventing breast cancer?

  • Ray Many Bears

    For the past 50 years I have been hearing about all the latest cancer cures and breakthroughs.  Yes, there have been drips and drabs with some cancers; those are the low hanging fruit.  I am certain there will be no “cures” for  pancreatic, liver, bladder, esophogeal, lung cancer etc. in my lifetime.  Most people with major organ cancers will die of that cancer.  That is the reality.  I am optimistic long term however.  What I am not optimistic about is the end of goofball quack treatments with vitamins and enemas etc. that cold blooded scumbags or deluded fanatics push on vulnerable people.  In time good science and hard work will produce an end to these horrible diseases. 

  • Marcia Keilee

    Another great show. Thanks Tom. I am in awe of your consistently brilliant interviews and comments. You are so intelligent and enthusiastic. What a blessing to hear you on any subject, anytime. You are simply the VERY best.

  • Anne

    Great show…ASCO is always a good meeting. Thanks for the update.

  • Mark

    Cancer will never be cured because of those who want to control the population in my opinion!

    • Dmax_38

      There is a race to cure cancer & who ever does it will be more famous than anyone we know to date ~!!!!!

  • Davidshufelt

    I found this show somewhat lackluster.  Frankly, for all your lead in and ballyhoo to the show, Tom, I didn’t find much to get excited about.  What’s so exciting about the fact that cancer is no longer one disease but hundreds or thousands of cancerS (with an “s”) as Dr. Sledge emphasized?  And what consolation is it that society will need even greater supercomputers to prescribe genetically coded cocktails of drugs costing possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient yearly?  Is there anyone in “the room” who’s stepping back and saying, “Hey, wait a minute, would a loving God or universe – take your pick – make this THAT complicated???”  And when will cancer researchers stop talking about human beings as if they’re simply machines and pay some tribute to the mental and spiritual components of well-being?

  • chriswirth

    I’m grateful for hearing this show!  Breakthrough in cancer Rx & tx under a personalized campaign…preventive to advanced tumor campaign.
    cost? AFFORDABILITY of RX & tx….NO…..
    solution:  corporate sponsorship towards finance mechanisms that are predictable, natural and offers recurring income.
    Cancer societies can help sponsor and participate

  • Holly legros

    It is critical that we find ways to affordably bring gene targeting personalized medicine for true cures; rather than poisoning/destroying good cells while also killing cancer cells. Is cancer a chemo drug deficiency?? My hope is INTEGRATING both mainstream & alternative treatments.( I already know my cyp450 genes w SNP’s.) It was $500, but worth it in what I gained. Why are we all NOT getting tested early on. There are nutrients to counter gene impairments/variations & particular meds and chemicals to avoid in our health journey in relation to these polymorphisms. Why are we not already armed with this information to help our bodies overcome our genetic weaknesses before it ever turns into a cancer.
    When we keep focusing on drugs alone and ignore our personal, individual genetics, nutrition and environmental challenges; we simply are not going to win this war.         

    • Nctreedaddy

      I think the biggest reason people generally aren’t taking prevenative action is because they don’t have the understanding of what’s out there and what is possible…obviously big medicine with big money invested in r&d don’t really want to put the advertisement of such possibilities out there. you raise a very good point sadly it’s just not as widespread as it needs to be!

  • ANNA


    This is another saga of cancer treatment therapy that was hindered by the FDA.  Just thought you might like to see the article. 

  • Dmax_38

    I would love the name of company to manufacture the drug.

  • Anonymous

    After all the billions of dollars for cancer cures and all the treatments that were never followed up like finding a protein that protects cancers and could be removed, starving tumors of blood supplies and many more that have disappeared over the decades they are still resorting to primative chemotherapy treatments that can kill people. Chemo is big business and so are mamograms – they are the same company. Many real cures are discarded for profits. Funny how they never come up with cures for anything.

  • Oncozul


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    Oncozul is a preparation based on a blue scorpion extract.
    Treatment with Oncozul brings important benefits to the patients suffering from
    different types of cancer due to it’s anti-inflammatory, antitumoral, analgesic
    and immunomodulatory effects. Results of the treatment with Oncozul can be
    observed in the first ten days from the beginning of treatment to over 90% of
    patients. Increasing appetite, better sleep and pain relief are the first
    results the cancer patient can observe in the first weeks of treatment. Because
    of it’s strong antitumoral effect, Oncozul decreases the size of the tumors
    with 30% in more than 80% of cases in the first 5 months of treatment. Using
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    Information regarding the therapy with Oncozul is available
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    Oncozul is the most effective alternative therapy in
    treatment of cancer.

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Jasmin Torres helps classmate Brianna Rameles with a worksheet at the Diloreto Magnet School in New Britain, Conn., Wednesday Feb. 22, 2012. (AP/Charles Krupa)

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