Cancer is basically out-of-control cell division and growth that destroys surrounding tissue and organs. Cancer usually turns into a tumor. But some forms, like leukemia, affect the blood and blood-forming organs and circulate through other tissues where they grow. Cancer cells develop because of damage to the DNA in a person's cells. This DNA damage can be inherited, or caused by exposure to something in the environment, like smoking or hazardous chemicals.
Different types of cancer can behave very differently. For example, lung cancer and breast cancer grow at different rates and respond to different treatments. That is why people with cancer need treatments that are aimed at their particular kind of cancer. Major types of treatment for cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and stem cell therapies, such as bone marrow transplants.
The use of bone marrow transplants to treat leukemia, pioneered in the 1970s, was the first major stem cell therapy breakthrough. Bone marrow transplants are now being used to treat other types of cancer, such as breast tumors and ovarian cancer. In fact, in recent years, various stem cell therapies are playing an increasingly important role in cancer treatments - though much research is still needed.
Human and Social Costs
Over one million people get cancer each year. Approximately one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetime. Anyone can get cancer at any age, but about 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people age of 55 and older.
Although much progress has been made in treating cancer and survival rates have increased, it still kills over 550,000 Americans each year. In fact, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the nation (behind heart disease).
Breast and prostate cancers are among the most prevalent, with over 200,000 and 400,000 patients in the US, respectively. Survivor rates are quite high when these cancers are detected early. However, when they reach an advanced-stage, these tumors are resistant to traditional therapy and frequently spread to other organs. The median survival times are 2 to 4 years for these cancers in spite of intensive therapy, and long-term survivors are often left with serious health problems.
The financial costs of cancer are also great. In the year 2002, the National Institutes of Health estimated overall annual costs for cancer were over $189 billion, including: $64 billion in direct health expenditures, $16 billion in lost productivity due to illness, and $109 billion in lost productivity due to premature deaths.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
Bone marrow transplants now save thousands of lives each year. However, current transplants generally involve the use of bone marrow donated by another person, which requires a donor whose marrow is compatible with the patient's. As a result, 70% of the people who need a bone marrow transplant using marrow donated by another person are unable to have one because a suitable bone marrow donor cannot be found. Scientists believe the potential development of new stem cell therapies could solve this problem and save the lives of thousands more cancer victims.
With further research, stem cells could also provide replacement cells for tissues and organs that are damaged by cancer or cancer treatment. In addition, studies of stem cell cultures in the laboratory provide scientists with new ways to study the causes, development and potential treatments of various types of cancer at the cellular level. This could ultimately be instrumental in finding the hoped for "cure" or "vaccine" for cancer that would save millions of lives.
That's why many cancer victims, their families and groups like the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, Friends of Cancer Research and National Coalition for Cancer Research of America strongly support stem cell research - and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
Partial List of Sources:
American Cancer Society
- http://www.cancer.org - http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/eto_1_3_Bone_Marrow.asp
Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation
Friends of Cancer Research
"Cancer Researchers to Test New Immunotherapy Treatment." University of California, San Francisco.
"Stem cells treat brain cancer." BBC News
"Stem cells help block cancer in mice." MSNBC News.
"Breast Cancer and Bone Marrow Transplantation." American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MED/content/MED_2_1X_Breast_Cancer_and_Bone_Marrow_Transplantation.asp
"What's New in Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma) Research and Treatment?" American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_6X_Whats_new_in_kidney_cancer_research_and_treatment_22.asp?sitearea=
"Tumour regression following stem cell infusion."