Tempering high expectations about cancer research and treatment with reality
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Last month, the American Cancer Society (ACS) issued a report on the progress made during the last quarter century in meeting its predicted goal of reducing cancer deaths in the United States by 50 percent by 2015.


When the reality of only a 26 percent reduction of cancer mortality was announced, ACS reported that "the glass was half full," and reflected on past and future goal setting.

But the really good news about reducing cancer deaths by more than 25 percent over 25 years might also be construed as a failure if held up to the unrealistic expectations first set in the 1990s.

The report also noted that its prediction was not the only one to promise the public more than could probably be delivered within a designated timeframe.

It mentioned President Obama's recent cancer "moonshot" initiative that "aims to bring about a decade's worth of advances in five years," as well as when the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute (NCI) had projected cancer deaths would be halved within a finite period in the 1980s, and a former NCI director's proclamation in 2003 that with adequate federal funding, it would be possible to "eliminate suffering and death from cancer by 2015."

Well, it's now 2016, and cancer still kills, although considerable progress has been realized in reducing deaths; preventing and controlling certain cancers; understanding its biology and developing new and promising effective therapies; mitigating its suffering; and enabling patients living with the disease to have a good quality of life.

And although a cure for all cancers may never be fully realized, every day, more people join the ranks of the more than 15 million cancer survivors living in America.

This month, the world's largest clinical cancer conference will convene again in Chicago when the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) holds its annual meeting, and the media will report news from the meeting, themed "Collective Wisdom: The Future of Patient-Centered Care and Research."

Researchers will present their findings to those members of the professional oncology community who are on the front-lines of patient care, and let's hope that the public will be served by realistic expectations of what patients can expect from those findings.

Rosenthal is an independent journalist who covers issues, controversies and trends in oncology as special correspondent for MedPage Today. He is the founder of the National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network, and helped organize a number of national medicine-and-the-media conferences. The opinions expressed belong solely to the author.