Cancer loses the battle
15.05.21: BREAKTHROUGHS in the treatment of cancer, once one of the most feared and incurable of diseases, mean it has now lost much of its terror.
Yesterday Britain's last working mammogram machine, previously at the forefront of the fight against breast cancer, was delivered to the Medical Museum. The uncomfortable and unreliable form of cancer screening it once performed is now achieved with a simple and effective blood test.
"Cancer deaths are down to 50% of what they were at the turn of the century," said the museum's curator, Dr David Large. "This mammogram machine will be going into our cancer section, along with the radiotherapy chamber and various samples of old chemotherapy drugs."
The oncologist Professor Vilayanur Ramachan added: "The new DNA cards mean that now we can spot anyone's genetic risk of cancer as soon as we see them. We can keep an eye on the 10% who are the most susceptible and advise them on what they can do to avoid it or deal with it effectively there and then."
The other significant development that has led to the emptying of the cancer wards is today's quick detection methods, which means that the genetic changes needed for all cancers to develop can be turned on or off as soon as they appear.
"Cancer is the result either of genes that cause cell division being too active," said Ramachan, "or genes that suppress tumours being turned off. The tumour suppressor gene P53, for instance, shows up as mutated in 50% of brain cancers and 90% of cervical ones.
"Surgery is rarer now because mutations are less likely to end up as a tumour. A blood test can detect which genes are being expressed in a dangerous way and, even when tumours do develop, genetic analysis can tell us a lot more about which drugs are likely to be most effective against which tumour.
"We also have big hopes for the new individualised cancer vaccine that is undergoing trials at the moment," said Ramachan. "By analysing the genes of a cancer, we can pinpoint distinctive markers on the tumorous cells, then develop a vaccine to attack