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Cancer is Like Cable TV

Cancer is not a single disease, but a collection of many types of the disease.

Incoming American Society of Oncology (ASCO) President George Sledge, MD was quoted at the 2010 annual ASCO meeting saying that "cancer is like cable television. Thirty years ago you had three channels. Now you have 500." It's an interesting--and accurate--analogy. We now know that cancer is not a single disease but rather a collection of many types of the disease. And more importantly, we now know that two people may have the same cancer cell type in the same organ and receive the same treatment, but respond differently. Recent research in genetics and targeted therapies has shown that cancer is a complex disease.

The ASCO meeting, held in Chicago in early June, drew oncologists from around the world to learn about advances in cancer treatment. As more is known about the genetics of cancer, new and refined treatments can be developed. Genetic alterations are linked to the development of a number of cancer types, and once an alteration is identified it may be possible to design a targeted therapy. One of the best examples of this approach is the drug Gleevec® (imatinib mesylate, Novartis, East Hanover, NJ, USA), used to treat patients with Philadelphia chromosome positive chronic myeloid leukemia. Hopefully, additional genetic aberrations will be identified in the near future so that more types of cancer may be cured.