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How we are winning the war on cancer


THUNDER BAY ON  ---  April 13, 2012  --- Cancer is an ancient disease. The oldest surviving description of cancer is written on a papyrus from about 1500 BC where hieroglyphics record a probable case of breast cancer. Under “treatment” the scribe concludes: “none.”


For the next two millennia, medical literature says virtually nothing about cancer. It was not until the first half of the 19th century that humans recognized that all plants and animals are made of cells, and that all cells arise from other cells.

 Dimitros Vergidis
Dr. Dimitrios Vergidis

 Date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Time: 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Speakers:  Dr. Dimitrios Vergidis & Joanne Lacourciere, Program Director
Location: Auditorium A & B, 3rd floor, TBRHSC
Parking: Free parking vouchers available at presentation

Joanne Lacourciere,
Program Director

With cellular understanding, scientists and researchers discovered that cancer is a disease that begins when a single cell, among the trillions in a human body, begins to grow out of control. Lymphomas, leukemias, malignant melanomas, and sarcomas all begin with a microscopic accident, a mutation in one cell.

Cell growth is the secret of living, the source of our ability to build, adapt, repair ourselves; and cancer cells are rebels among our own cells that outrace the rest. As Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in his fascinating biography of cancer, The Emperor of all Maladies, “If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.”

But despite this cellular knowledge, cancer research languished – unorganized, underfunded, disjointed, and uneven. For many decades, violently radical surgeries were the only tools for combating cancer. Bit by bit, knowledge was accumulating.

In the 1960s, cancer was no longer an intensely private affair but entered the public arena, and citizens, in the hundreds of thousands, mobilized to demand change in how cancer research was conducted. How is it, they wondered, that in 1969 a man had walked on the moon yet there was no significant, organized national effort in the United States to combat cancer? Full-page ads appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post addressed directly to President Nixon, asking him to budget money to find a cure for cancer.

President Nixon responded by signing the National Cancer Act in December 1971 and the “war on cancer” was launched.
Modern treatments – multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care – came into existence in part due to this new aggressive national program, but also from a century's worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe.

Today, cancer science reveals a light at the end of the tunnel. We now see a way out of the “cell-kill paradigm” and toward the development and deployment of highly targeted, nontoxic chemical therapies based on genetic science.
The heroic figures in the cancer story these days are the researchers and biomedical scientists who seek ever more specific targets for drug action. New technologies give us visual access to cancer at micro and molecular levels through advances in microscopy, histological staining, biopsies, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, as well as PET/CT.

Despite our small population and relative remoteness, Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario have often been ahead of the curve. Our Regional Cancer Program technology and staff are second-to-none and we have innovative patient-centred research taking place at the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute. Soon Thunder Bay will have its own cyclotron that will advance local scientists’ work in developing targeted therapies and new radiopharmaceuticals.
Northwestern Ontario has had the benefit of cancer leadership with foresight, ambition, and concern for the health of our citizens. Paired with extraordinary volunteers and dedicated donors, we have a winning combination.

Yet, despite considerable progress since the war on cancer was launched in the early 1970s, 1 in 2 North Americans will be affected by cancer at some point in their lifetime. With a statistic like that, it is impossible to imagine living a life that avoids dealing with cancer – either personally or by relationship.

Come hear more about our Regional Cancer Program, cancer advancements, and about steps you can take to win the war against cancer in your own life.

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