New Cancer Treatments

January 29, 1982

Report Outline
Progress and Problems
Search for Cancer Cures
Promising New Treatments
Special Focus

Progress and Problems

Unanswered Questions, Continued Concern

When billionaire industrialist Armand Hammer talks, people listen. Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp., recently donated $2 million in prizes and awards to the fight against cancer, including $1 million to any scientist who finds a cure for cancer by 1991. Hammer's offer provides a sharp illustration of the nation's continuing concern with cancer—a disease that kills some 420,000 Americans a year. Even though survival rates for most cancers have improved in recent years, cancer remains one of the most feared maladies. Most cancers bring intense pain and suffering for the patient, and anxiety and uncertainty for family and friends.

Doctors still do not know what causes the disease or precisely why some treatments are successful and others are not. What is certain is that one in four living Americans will contract cancer in their lifetime, that cancer strikes about two of every three families, and that about 800,000 new cancer patients were diagnosed in 1981. Medical researchers have linked cigarette smoking with most cases of lung cancer, frequent overexposure to direct sunlight with most skin cancers, and exposure to industrial chemicals such as asbestos with other types of cancer. But the exact causes of most cancers remain a medical mystery.

There are some 10 billion cells in the average adult body. Cancer begins when a single cell undergoes an abnormal change and starts to spread uncontrollably. Groups of runaway cancer cells grow into masses of tissue called tumors (see glossary, p. 68). Benign tumors do not spread throughout the body. Malignant tumors do expand; they invade and destroy normal body tissues. Most cancers stay at their original site for a period of time, when they are known as localized cancers. Eventually, most cancers move into organs and tissues, or become detached and course through the lymph or blood systems to other parts of the body. This process is called metastasis. When cancer cells metastasize throughout the entire body, they cause death.

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