The state of cancer research

After spending a few days at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, I'm leaving with a feeling of optimism. There are great things happening in cancer research. The amount of knowledge and information our cancer researchers are finding is astounding, and it's increasing exponentially.Unfortunately, in this time of budget cuts and conservative spending, the money spent on cancer research has remained flat over the past decade. And when you consider inflation, that's a 20 percent lower purchasing power -- roughly $6 billion. That means fewer grants, fewer researchers, fewer studies, fewer results. AACR has noted that cancer research funding remains its No. 1 priority. (AACR Board of Directors Pronounce Crisis in Cancer Research Funding its No. 1 Priority) Many of the studies I've been learning about during this meeting are preclinical or early-phase human trials. While the big news comes out of ASCO, the annual meeting for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which will highlight studies that may change clinical practice, AACR is the starting point. What I'm learning about at this meeting may ultimately make headlines in a year or two or three at ASCO. Another great opportunity at this meeting is to learn about the next step, the next question. Researchers begin with a hypothesis, study it and present the results. You can almost bet on it, but after every press briefing, someone always asks, "What does this mean for the patient?" or "Will this change clinical practice?" Often times, the answer is no ... at least not yet. Researchers will ask more questions, building on this information, perform larger studies and ultimately, if it works out, it will change practice. That's why this basic cancer research is so important. I've listened to quite a few studies in just these past two days that I'm hoping I'll hear more about at ASCO, including a potentially promising new lymphoma drug, the effects of metformin in prostate cancer, and the possibility that certain women with breast cancer may not need radiation therapy, among other interesting studies that I'll be reporting on soon.I've included the opening video from the meeting. It emphasizes the importance of cancer research and explains where some of the greatest recent discoveries started.