AACR Cancer Progress Report

AACR Cancer Progress Report
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Making Research Count for Patients: A New Day
www.cancerprogressreport.org • www.aacr.org
AACR Cancer Progress Report
Making Research Count for Patients: A New Day
www.cancerprogressreport.org • www.aacr.org
Table of Contents
AACR Cancer Progress Report Writing Committee ................................................................................................................................................................4
Message From the AACR.........................................................................................................................................................................................................6
An Appeal from Cancer Survivors and Their Loved Ones ......................................................................................................................................................8
Executive Summary...............................................................................................................................................................................................................10
A Snapshot of a Year of Progress .........................................................................................................................................................................................13
The Status of Cancer in 2012................................................................................................................................................................................................14
Why Cancer Research? .........................................................................................................................................................................................................19
Cancer Research: From Concept to Patient and Back Again .....................................................................................................................................21
Experimental Models of Cancer.............................................................................................................................................................................22
Probing Cancer Models: Generating and Testing Ideas...........................................................................................................................................23
Moving Cancer Research into the Clinic ................................................................................................................................................................24
Clinical Outcomes Go Back to the Laboratory........................................................................................................................................................25
Prevention and Early Detection ............................................................................................................................................................................................28
To Know Your Risk, Know the Causes of Cancer ........................................................................................................................................................28
Causes of Cancer You Could Avoid ........................................................................................................................................................................28
Tobacco Use and Cancer: Smoking-Gun Evidence .......................................................................................................................................28
Obesity and Physical Inactivity Weigh in on Cancer......................................................................................................................................29
Ultraviolet Light: Reflecting on a Cause of Cancer........................................................................................................................................31
Infectious Agents: Catching a Cause of Cancer ............................................................................................................................................33
Diet and Cancer: You Are What You Eat and Drink ........................................................................................................................................36
Causes of Cancer That Are Hard to Avoid...............................................................................................................................................................36
Ionizing Radiation: Energizing Cancer..........................................................................................................................................................36
Environmental Pollutants: A Murky Link to Cancer .......................................................................................................................................37
Hormones: A Natural Boost to Cancer..........................................................................................................................................................38
Inheritable Causes of Cancer ................................................................................................................................................................................39
Inherited Risk: It’s in Your Genes..................................................................................................................................................................39
Cancer Predisposing Medical Conditions .....................................................................................................................................................41
Stratifying Risk to Improve Health Care for Everyone................................................................................................................................................41
Reducing Risk ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................43
Screening to Spot Cancer Early.............................................................................................................................................................................43
Medical Intervention: Taking Action Early to Prevent the Onset of Cancer...............................................................................................................45
Making Research Count for Patients....................................................................................................................................................................................46
A New Day for Our Current Knowledge .......................................................................................................................................................................46
A New Day for Old Targets ....................................................................................................................................................................................47
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Two New Ways to Hit a Breast Cancer Target...............................................................................................................................................47
What to Do When One of the Most Effective Molecularly Targeted Drugs Doesn’t Work................................................................................49
Refining Drug Potency and Specificity .........................................................................................................................................................50
Improving Patient Quality of Life by Reducing Side Effects ...........................................................................................................................51
A New Day for Existing Drugs................................................................................................................................................................................53
A New Day for Anti-hormone Therapy ........................................................................................................................................................................54
A New Day for Targeted Therapy.................................................................................................................................................................................58
A New Day for Immunotherapy ...................................................................................................................................................................................61
Targeting the Immune System to Release Its Brakes .............................................................................................................................................61
Targeting the Immune System to Boost Its Killing Power .......................................................................................................................................62
Directing the Immune System to Cancer Cells.......................................................................................................................................................63
A New Day for Patient Stratification ...........................................................................................................................................................................65
A New Day for Genomic Medicine ...............................................................................................................................................................................69
On the Horizon .......................................................................................................................................................................................................................73
Research at the Cellular Level: Epigenetics................................................................................................................................................................73
Metabolomics: From Molecules, to Cells, to Humans.................................................................................................................................................74
Whole-Body Influences: The Microbiome ...................................................................................................................................................................74
Integrating Everything: Systems Biology....................................................................................................................................................................74
Improving Knowledge Application: Nanotechnology .................................................................................................................................................74
Reducing Cancer Risk Through Behavior Modification..............................................................................................................................................75
What Is Required for Continued Progress Against Cancer ..................................................................................................................................................77
Improved Biospecimen Collection and Repository System........................................................................................................................................77
Multidisciplinary Team Approaches and Collaboration..............................................................................................................................................78
Improved Approaches to Clinical Trials ......................................................................................................................................................................79
Adoption of a Learning Healthcare System ................................................................................................................................................................81
Investment in Cancer Research and Biomedical Science Saves Lives, Fuels Innovation and Boosts the Economy ........................................................82
NIH Is the Catalyst for Progress Against Cancer ........................................................................................................................................................82
Dwindling Research Budget and Threats of Drastic Cuts Threaten Progress for Patients, Economy......................................................................84
The AACR Call to Action ........................................................................................................................................................................................................87
Table of Surgical and Radiotherapies Used to Treat Cancer ......................................................................................................................................94
Table of FDA-approved Therapeutics Used to Treat Cancer.......................................................................................................................................96
American Association for Cancer Research
Cancer Progress Report
Writing Committee
Steering Committee Chair
Frank McCormick, Ph.D., FRS, D.Sc. (hon.)
UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
San Francisco, CA
Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D.
Provost and Executive Vice President
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX
Steering Committee
Olivera J. Finn, Ph.D.
Chair and Distinguished Professor, Department of Immunology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Pittsburgh, PA
Kenneth C. Anderson, M.D.
Director, Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, MA
P. Andrew Futreal, Ph.D.
Professor of Genomic Medicine
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX
Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Professor and Director, Transformative Healthcare Networks
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ
Todd R. Golub, M.D.
Director, Cancer Program
Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.)
Chief Executive Officer
American Association for Cancer Research
Philadelphia, PA
William N. Hait, M.D., Ph.D.
Global Head
Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical R & D
Raritan, NJ
Ernest T. Hawk, M.D., M.P.H.
Vice President and Division Head
Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Science
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX
Guillermina Lozano, Ph.D.
Chairman and Professor, Department of Genetics
UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX
Peter W. Laird, Ph.D.
Director, University of Southern California Epigenome Center
Los Angeles, CA
John M. Maris, M.D.
Chief, Division of Oncology
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA
David Piwnica-Worms, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO
Writing Committee
Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical School
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA
William S. Dalton, M.D., Ph.D.
President, Chief Executive Officer and Center Director
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
Tampa, FL
William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
Baltimore, MD
Charles L. Sawyers, M.D.
Chair, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, NY
Stuart L. Schreiber, Ph.D.
Director, Department of Chemical Biology
Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Margaret R. Spitz, M.D.
Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX
Patricia S. Steeg, Ph.D.
Chief, The Women’s Cancer Section
Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology
National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, MD
Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Ernest Cockrell, Jr. Distinguished Endowed Chair
The Methodist Hospital Research Institute
Houston, TX
Ahmedin Jamal, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Vice President, Surveillance Research
American Cancer Society
Atlanta, GA
Bruce S. Kristal, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Neurosurgery
Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Boston, MA
Joyce A. O’Shaughnessy, M.D.
Co-Chair, Breast Cancer Research
Baylor University Medical Center
Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center
Dallas, TX
Sudhir Srivastava, Ph.D., MPH
Chief, Cancer Biomarkers Research Group
Division of Cancer Prevention
National Cancer Institute
Rockville, MD
AACR Staff
Shawn M. Sweeney, Ph.D.
Project Leader
Senior Program Administrator
Philadelphia, PA
Karen Honey, Ph.D.
Science Writer
Senior Managing Editor, Science Communications
Philadelphia, PA
Pamela Bradley, Ph.D.
Director, Science Policy
Washington, DC
Paul Driscoll
Director, Marketing and Creative Services
Philadelphia, PA
Mark Fleury, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Science Policy
Washington, DC
James Ingram
Manager, Legislative Affairs
Washington, DC
[email protected]
Jon Retzlaff, M.B.A., M.P.A.
Managing Director, Science Policy and Government Affairs
Washington, DC
Mary Lee Watts, M.P.H., R.D.
Director, Government Relations
Washington, DC
Nicolle Rager Fuller
Sayo-Art, LLC
Bellingham, WA
Francesco Versace, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX
American Association for Cancer Research
A Message from
the AACR
At the opening of its Annual Meeting on April 1, 2012, in Chicago,
Illinois, leaders from the American Association for Cancer Research
(AACR) declared that the ability of cancer researchers to bring the
promise of science to improve the outcomes for cancer patients is
in peril due to a decade of declining budgets at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The
AACR Board of Directors also announced that it would redouble its
efforts to engage with Congress to make cancer research and
biomedical science funding a national priority, raise public
awareness of the importance of continued investment in cancer
research and biomedical science, and call on its 34,000 members
and the broader advocacy community constituencies to join
together to better explain the value of research to saving lives and
to the economic health and well-being of our Nation.
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012 is one of the major steps
toward achieving the goals outlined five months ago by the AACR
Board. In addition to detailing how scientific discoveries are
transforming the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of
cancer and ushering in a new era of personalized medicine where
cancer patients are treated based on the molecular profile of their
cancer, this Report is a Call to Action for the general public and for
policymakers to intensify their efforts to support research. The
AACR is deeply grateful to the cancer survivors and their loved ones
who selflessly shared in this Report their personal experiences to
further our efforts to communicate the importance of research to
each and every individual facing cancer.
For the past decade the NIH budget has remained essentially flat,
and when factoring in the rate of biomedical inflation, the agency
has effectively lost more than $6 billion or nearly 20% of its ability
to support life-saving research. And as a result of a budget
mechanism, called sequestration, which was created by the U.S.
Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to force the
government to address the federal deficit, on January 2, 2013,
funding for every federal program, including the NCI and its parent
agency, the NIH, may be forced to absorb another budget
cut of 8%.
If these cuts are put in place, it will destroy the cancer research
and biomedical science enterprise, which is already confronting a
situation where the opportunities for researchers to be awarded an
NIH grant to uncover new scientific knowledge and make further
substantial inroads against cancer have reached an all-time low. In
testimony before Congress, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D.,
Ph.D., described sequestration’s impact on NIH as potentially
“devastating,” and explained that NIH would be forced to fund
2,300 fewer grants than planned in fiscal year 2013. This scenario
would be disastrous for our most precious national resource, the
young investigators who are just beginning their professional
careers in research with an eye toward making a difference. We are
relying on these young investigators to continue to nourish the
pipeline of new discoveries that will have an even greater impact
on the welfare of patients and on public health as a whole.
As detailed throughout the Report, these funding constraints are
coming at a time when the number of opportunities for exploiting
our growing scientific knowledge against cancer has never been
greater. The myriad advances in cancer research and biomedical
science bring a sense of hope to all who face cancer or who love
someone facing cancer, as poignantly illustrated by the personal
stories shared in this Report. Clearly, as we observe the increasing
incidence and mortality due to cancer not only in the U.S., but also
around the world, we believe that our great Nation has a
responsibility to step up to the plate and make a commitment to
eradicating this devastating disease at the earliest possible time.
Sequestration can be prevented if Congress enacts legislation this
year that provides alternative means to reduce the federal
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
About the
American Association
for Cancer Research
The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
is to prevent and cure cancer through research, education,
communication, and collaboration. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the
world’s oldest and largest scientific organization dedicated to the
advances in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients.
government’s budget deficit. Therefore, we are urging all AACR
members and the broader advocacy community to contact their
representatives and senators in Congress to urge them to work in a
constructive, bipartisan fashion to find a more balanced approach
to address the federal deficit and prevent sequestration from
occurring. We cannot compromise our ability to transform cancer
care for the benefit of current and future cancer patients, for by
doing so we risk losing the momentum we have already achieved
in cancer science and medicine.
With the availability of new technological tools, cancer researchers
are now able to find new and efficient ways to decipher the
complexities of cancer. As a result, breakthroughs against human
cancer are being discovered at an ever-increasing pace. Cancer
survivors are coming together to speak with one voice about the
urgency of finding new cures for patients today and for future
generations. And Members of Congress have no other option but to
recognize that they have the responsibility to invest in the health of
our citizens.
By all of us working together – scientists, survivors and patient
advocates, citizen activists, and legislators – we will accelerate
further progress and we will defeat cancer.
Frank McCormick, Ph.D., FRS, D.Sc. (hon.)
AACR President
Kenneth C. Anderson, M.D.
Member, AACR Science Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee
Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Member, AACR Science Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee
Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.)
Chief Executive Officer
Its membership includes 34,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical
researchers who are working on every aspect of cancer research;
other health care professionals; and cancer survivors and patient
advocates in the United States and more than 90 countries outside
the U.S. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the
cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, etiology,
early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer through innovative
scientific and educational programs and publications. It funds
innovative, meritorious research grants to both senior and junior
researchers, research fellowships for scholars-in-training, and career
development awards.
The AACR Annual Meeting attracts nearly 18,000 participants who
share the latest discoveries and new ideas in the field. Special
Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide
variety of topics in cancer research, ranging from the laboratory to
the clinic to the population. The AACR publishes seven major peerreviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical
Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer
Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and
Cancer Prevention Research. In 2011, the AACR’s scientific journals
received 20 percent of the total number of literature citations in
The AACR also publishes a magazine, Cancer Today, for cancer
patients, survivors, patient advocates, and their families and
caregivers that includes essential, evidence-based information and
perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship, and
healthy lifestyle.
A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and
policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public
health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for
cancer research, and the need for national policies that foster
innovation and progress in the field.
AACR Headquarters
615 Chestnut Street, 17th floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106-4404
Telephone: (215) 440-9300
Fax: (215) 440-9313
Ernest T. Hawk, M.D., M.P.H.
Member, AACR
AACR Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs
1425 K Street, NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: (202) 898-6499
Fax: (202) 898-0966
Peter W. Laird, Ph.D.
Member, AACR
©2012 American Association for Cancer Research.
David Piwnica-Worms, M.D., Ph.D.
Member, AACR
American Association for Cancer Research
An Appeal from Cancer Survivors and Their
Loved Ones to Make Research a National Priority
No one who faces a diagnosis of cancer is ever fully prepared for
the challenges that confront them and their loved ones. Hearing
the words “you’ve got cancer” changes life, forever. Cancer
remains in the forefront of our minds whether we are currently in
treatment, living well beyond its diagnosis or coping with the loss
of a loved one.
Cancer can strike anyone—no age, gender, race, ethnicity,
socioeconomic status or political affiliation makes you immune.
In fact, in the United States, one out of every three women
and one out of every two men will receive a cancer diagnosis
in their lifetimes.
As cancer survivors and advocates, we, like millions of others,
battle this terrifying disease on a personal level through our own
individual experiences. But it is also critical that everyone touched
by cancer come together to advocate on a national level for the
needs of those currently facing cancer and those who will face it in
the future. Our drive to make a difference is why we wanted to be
part of the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012, to share our
personal stories and put a face on the difference that cancer
research has made and still needs to make.
To be honest, for many of us before we received a diagnosis of
cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and its parent agency,
the National Institutes of Health (NIH), were either unknown or seen
as agencies that supported abstract research that was not terribly
connected to our daily lives. Now, we understand and appreciate
that, far from being abstract, these agencies serve a critical and
irreplaceable role in stimulating scientific breakthroughs, which are
the foundations for the medical treatments we all rely on today and
which hold the promise for new cures and prolonged quality of
life. Advances accrued over the past decades of cancer research
supported by these agencies have fundamentally changed the
conversations that Americans are having today about cancer.
From across the diversity of our cancer diagnoses, we are united in
our belief that our greatest source of hope for healthier and longer
lives for current cancer survivors and future generations is
grounded in scientific discovery. Sadly, despite the remarkable progress that has been made against
cancer over the past four decades, a grim reality remains.
Too many Americans are losing their battle with this disease that
we now know is a collection of more than 200 different types of
cancer. More than 1.64 million Americans will be diagnosed in
2012, and more than 570,000 will succumb to this disease. No
matter which form of cancer has stricken us, we all know too well
the horrific toll of a cancer diagnosis, the fear of what tomorrow
might bring, and the pain and confusion that can follow is
With a burden so high, it is unbelievable to us that support for
cancer research and biomedical science seems to be waning.
The budgets of the NCI and the NIH have been falling over the past
decade and are down in functional dollars by about 20%. We fear
that the once determined resolve of our Nation to find a cure for
cancer has eroded alongside these deteriorating budgets. We are
extremely concerned that our nation’s policymakers will not act
to avert sequestration, which would make deep cuts to these
programs, causing profound and catastrophic harm to the future
of biomedical research in this country. These potential cuts
threaten to compromise the progress we have made and destroy
the hope for every one of us whose future depends on the
breakthrough scientific discoveries that could lead to new and
more effective treatments. Our message is simple but earnest. Congress, help us continue the
momentum necessary to combat the cancer epidemic, and make
funding for cancer research and biomedical science a priority.
There is no time to waste when, in the U.S. alone, we are losing
one person every minute of every day to this devastating disease.
Monica Barlow
Kathryn Becker
Congressman M. Robert Carr
S. Ward “Trip” Casscells, M.D.
Shaundra L. Hall
Wendy and Gavin Lindberg, Parents of Evan Lindberg
Amy Mulford, Mother of Brooke Mulford
Melanie A. Nix
Lori Redmer
Antoni Smith
Jill Ward
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
American Association for Cancer Research
Executive Summary
Cancer research saves lives, fueling the development of new and
better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer in all age
groups. The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012 celebrates the
many ways that we have made research count for cancer patients,
highlighting important advances seen in the past year. Decades of
prior research have provided the foundation for the progress that is
helping to usher in a new day for patients with many forms of
cancer. Indeed, scientific progress has spurred improvements in
health care that have significantly reduced the burden of cancer
and transformed the lives of a growing number of the 13.7 million
cancer survivors in the U.S. and their families and other loved ones.
These advances would not have been possible without the longstanding, bipartisan commitment of our Nation’s policymakers to
invest in research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
and National Cancer Institute (NCI), the foundation of our Nation’s
biomedical research enterprise.
An estimated 577,000 Americans will die from cancer in 2012,
despite these remarkable advances. Moreover, because cancer is
predominantly a disease of aging, we face a future where the
number of cancer deaths will increase dramatically. In fact, as an
increasing proportion of the population is over the age of 65,
cancer is predicted to soon become the number one killer of
Americans, a trend that will also occur globally. Cancer is already
the most costly disease to the Nation, and without major new
research advances to facilitate the successful development of new
preventive interventions and treatments, these trends will magnify
the already huge economic burden that cancer manifests.
The dedicated work of thousands of cancer and biomedical
researchers the world over has uncovered much about the
complexities of cancer—we now know that cancer is, in fact, not a
single disease, but 200 different diseases. This diversity exists at
every level, from populations to the very genetic and molecular
abnormalities that drive a patient’s cancer. Although the complex,
diverse nature of cancer is daunting, we have discovered that some
common biological processes are involved in cancer. We have
learned that changes in an individual’s genes alter specific
components of the molecular machinery of a cell to drive cancer
initiation, development and spread (metastasis), and that therapies
specifically targeting these defects are often beneficial to the
patients while having less toxicity than older therapies.
With this new knowledge, we have never been better positioned to
capitalize on our hard-won understanding of cancer—what causes
it, what drives it—and there is enormous optimism that we can
achieve our ultimate goal of defeating cancer. Unfortunately,
continued progress in life-saving cancer research is in jeopardy, as
investments in the NIH and NCI have been steadily declining since
2003. We are now facing the acute consequences of automatic
budget-cutting sequestration, which will begin on Jan. 2, 2013, if
Congress fails to find a more balanced approach to address the
federal deficit.
This second AACR Cancer Progress Report to Congress and the
American public seeks to again serve as a comprehensive
educational tool that illustrates the astounding return on investment
in cancer research and biomedical science supported by the NIH
and NCI, while also specifically capturing the major advances that
occurred in just the past year. Scientific momentum has brought
the arrival of a new era in which we will be able to develop even
more effective interventions and save more lives from cancer, but
to do so will require an unwavering commitment on the part of
Congress and the Administration to invest in our country’s
remarkably productive biomedical research enterprise led by the
NIH and NCI.
Prevention and Early Detection
One of the key areas of progress and promise is cancer prevention.
As a direct result of our scientific understanding of the timing,
sequence and frequency of the pivotal changes underlying cancer
development and spread throughout the body, we now know there
are points of intervention that can be exploited in order to stop
certain cancers in their tracts, before they do irreversible damage
that results in death. In fact, advances in cancer prevention and
early detection have resulted in some of the greatest reductions in
cancer mortality in recent decades. Implementing public health
measures to reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents,
intervening medically to treat or prevent infectious causes of
cancer and introducing population-based screening practices have
contributed to this progress.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that about two out of every three
cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2012 will be due to preventable
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
causes—most notably tobacco use, obesity and physical inactivity
and failure to use or comply with interventions that treat or prevent
infectious causes of cancer. These facts underscore the need for
continued research to inform effective public educational
campaigns and programs that can encourage and help people
change their behaviors.
Population-based screening programs have been credited with
dramatically increasing the five-year survival rates for the cancers
that they detect because finding a tumor early makes it more likely
that it can be treated successfully and with fewer side effects.
There is concern, however, that this heightened surveillance can
lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, potentially causing more
harm than good. More research to address these problems is vital
to ensure that the public has confidence in current screening
guidelines and in any future recommendations that may be made.
In addition, we need to develop screening strategies for those
cancers that we cannot detect early, in particular, those that
currently elude detection until they are at an advanced stage.
Making Research Count for Patients
Decades of research have provided an understanding of the
fundamental nature of cancer, and why and how cancer develops
and spreads throughout the body. These major discoveries about
the biology of cancer are beginning to be translated into new
breakthrough therapies that are being used alongside the
traditional triad of cancer patient care—surgery, radiotherapy and
chemotherapy—to transform the treatment of patients with certain
forms of cancer. In the past 12 months alone (September 2011
through the end of August 2012), the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) U.S. approved eight new drugs for the treatment of cancer as
well as new uses for three previously approved drugs, increasing
the number of patients benefiting from these therapies. There are
also numerous ongoing clinical trials testing other agents, several
of which are showing promise for near-term clinical advances.
The majority of the cancer therapies approved by the FDA in the
past 12 months are more effective and less toxic than older
treatments that have been the mainstay of patient care. As a result,
these new therapies are not only saving the lives of countless
cancer patients, but are also improving their quality of life. Rapid
American Association for Cancer Research
advances in this area are likely in the near future, as we learn more
about patient characteristics that predict their response to a certain
therapy. Patients identified as likely to respond will receive
treatment, while those determined to be very unlikely to respond
will be spared any adverse side effects from the course of therapy.
Moreover, definitive stratification of patient populations can also
provide healthcare savings by avoiding the futile use of ineffective
courses of cancer treatments and the treatment costs associated
with their adverse effects.
Unfortunately, progress has not been uniform for all forms of
cancer, and this highlights the great need for continued cancer
research. Large-scale analyses of the genetic underpinnings of
cancer are now guiding the development of new cancer drugs and
are directing the repurposing of proven therapies to treat novel
cancer types. Further innovation is needed, however, if
genetic/genomic analysis is to become part of standard practice,
and if most cancer treatment and prevention strategies are to be
based on both a person’s genetic makeup and the genetic makeup
of their specific cancer.
While the altered genomes of cancer cells can have a profound
effect on the development and spread of cancer, factors at all
levels—from molecules to cells to humans—are involved.
Understanding all of these influences will help to determine which
can be exploited to most significantly impact patient care. In
addition, it is vital that we learn not only how these factors work in
isolation, but also how they affect each other. While progress is
beginning to be made in several areas, it will take a concerted
effort from all in the cancer research community to deliver future
What is Required for Continued
Progress Against Cancer?
Congressional support for the NIH and NCI has enabled
extraordinary progress against cancer, and in doing so has saved
countless lives while catalyzing the development of the
biotechnology industry and economic growth in America. The
research-fueled explosion of both knowledge and technological
innovation, as well as our ever-increasing understanding of how to
apply this new information, has provided new ways to reduce the
Globally, in 2008 an estimated 12.7
million people were diagnosed with
cancer and 7.6 million died of the
disease. By 2030, it is estimated that
this will increase to 22.2 million and
13.2 million, respectively.
global burden of cancer. However, there are many challenges to
overcome if we are to realize our goal of defeating cancer.
If we are to make a quantum leap in our progress against all
cancers, we must continue to pursue a comprehensive
understanding of cancer. With new tools, new analytics, new ways
of thinking and new ways of working together, we will gather speed
in furthering our knowledge base and develop new approaches to
cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment.
We live in a time of unprecedented scientific opportunities, afforded
to us by past investments in cancer research and biomedical
science. Researchers and their partners in the cancer research
community possess the steadfast resolve to seize the day and
forge ahead to the finish line—to the day when cancer is removed
a major threat to our Nation’s citizens and to future generations.
Realizing this bright future requires that Congress and the general
public stand firm in their commitment to the conquest of cancer. At
a time when budgets are constrained and there is the looming
threat of sequestration, scarce federal dollars must be invested
wisely. Funding cancer research and biomedical science through
the NIH and NCI is a wise choice for our Nation’s future.
The AACR Call to Action
In order to fulfill the extraordinary scientific and medical promise of
cancer research and biomedical science, the AACR respectfully
urges Congress to:
• Work in a constructive, bipartisan fashion to find a more
balanced approach to address the federal deficit and prevent
sequestration from occurring on Jan. 2, 2013; and
• Designate NIH and NCI as a top national priority by providing
annual budget increases at least comparable to the biomedical
inflation rate.
While it is imperative that Congress take action to stop the
threatened sequestration and once again make NIH and NCI
funding a national priority, the responsibility is not theirs alone. The
AACR also urges the citizens of this great Nation, who benefit from
this life-saving research, to urge their legislators to support cancer
research and biomedical science.
In short, if we are to ultimately transform scientific discoveries into
therapies that improve the lives of cancer patients, an unwavering
commitment on the part of Congress and the Administration to
invest in our country’s biomedical research enterprise is urgently
“Thousands of Americans lose their battle to cancer each year. But through the committed efforts of
scientists and hospitals around the country, great strides are being made to discover cures and
treatments to change this sad reality. By raising awareness about early detection and prevention as
well as prioritizing research to treat and cure cancer, I am confident we will one day win this fight.”
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Co-Chair of the Senate Cancer Coalition
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
A Snapshot of a Year
of Progress
It is a new day for cancer research and for cancer patients. Rapidly
evolving technology is enabling extraordinary advances in cancer
research that deepen our understanding of how cancer develops,
grows and threatens the lives of millions. By exploiting this growing
body of knowledge about cancer biology, we can be more strategic
and innovative than ever before in the way we attack cancer. This
is quickening the pace of developing new ways to prevent, detect,
diagnose and treat cancer.
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012 celebrates the many ways
that we have made research count for cancer patients, particularly
in the past year alone. Decades of research, in large part thanks to
our Nation’s long-standing investment in cancer research and
biomedical science by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and
the National Cancer Institute (NCI), have provided the foundation for
the progress that is helping usher in this new day for patients with
many forms of cancer.
Highlighted in this Report are treatment advances approved by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past 12 months
Unfortunately, continued progress against cancer is in jeopardy due
to the current crisis in funding for cancer research and biomedical
science at the federal level. Without action to avert further cuts, our
Nation’s ability to seize today’s scientific momentum and capitalize
on prior investments in cancer research, spur innovation, and most
importantly, save lives is at risk. Because of a decade of essentially
flat budgets, compounded further by biomedical inflation, the NIH
and NCI have effectively lost $6 billion or nearly 20% of its ability to
support life-saving research. Sequestration, with its automatic
budget cuts, threatens to set these agencies back to budget levels
last seen in 2004.
As a reminder of why it is so critical for the Nation to prioritize
cancer research and biomedical science, the 2012 Report
describes the exciting research progress and scientific
opportunities ahead. Also, to put a face on the realities of cancer,
we have chronicled the experiences and the sentiments of twelve
cancer survivors, and as well as a mother and father who suffered
unimaginable grief when their seven-year-old child died of
• A new drug for treating precancerous lesions of the skin
• Eight new drugs for treating a variety of types of cancer, of which
two are entirely new classes of drugs
• Four new uses for previously approved cancer drugs, one of
the four uses being an alternative administration to reduce
side effects
There are many cancer therapeutics showing tremendous potential
in clinical trials. Some of these are currently being reviewed by the
FDA and could provide widespread patient benefit in the near term;
others require further study in larger populations before they can
be considered by the FDA. Several promising cancer treatments are
discussed herein, but this Report should not be considered an
exhaustive summary of potential areas of future progress.
The Report also presents new discoveries that are forming the
foundation of tomorrow’s progress. Scientists at institutions in
every state across the Nation continue to report a myriad of basic
science breakthroughs that are revealing novel insights that may
well offer the key to the next major advances.
American Association for Cancer Research
The Status of Cancer
in 2012
Table 1: Newly FDA-Approved Drugs and Indications for the Treatment
of Cancer and Precancerous Lesions - September 2011 to August 2012
Angiogenesis Inhibitors
Approved Indication
Kidney cancer
Soft tissue sarcomas*
Colorectal cancer
Generic Name
Trade Name
Cell Cytoskeleton Modifying Agents
Approved Indication
Certain leukemias
and lymphomas
Generic Name
vincristine sulfate
Trade Name
Cell Signaling Inhibitors
Approved Indication
Non-cancerous kidney
tumors*; HER2+
breast cancers*
HER2+ breast cancers
Certain type of
skin cancer
Generic Name
Trade Name
Approved Indication
Prostate cancer
Generic Name
Trade Name
Immune System Modifiers
Approved Indication
Precancerous skin
Generic Name
ingenol mebutate
Generic Name
• Is 27 institutes and centers
• funds nearly 6,000 in-house scientists
and 50,000 annual external grants
• enables the work of over 432,000
extramural researchers at over 3,000
universities, medical schools, medical
centers, teaching hospitals, small
businesses and research institutions
• creates jobs in every state and
around the world.
Trade Name
Proteosome Inhibitor
Approved Indication
Multiple myeloma
Multiple myeloma
The number of cancer survivors in the United States (U.S.)
continues to increase year after year, from 3 million in 1971, the
year the U.S. Congress passed the National Cancer Act, to
approximately 13.7 million in 2012 (1, 2). This success is the result
of several factors – the investments in research by the federal
government as well as philanthropic individuals and the private
sector, and behavioral changes, especially the reduction of tobacco
consumption. The decades of investments in basic and clinical
cancer research and biomedical science, in particular the
investments supported by public funds through the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI),
have spurred the development of new and better ways to prevent,
detect, diagnose and treat cancer in all age groups, leading to
decreases in incidence; cures for some patients with certain types
of cancer; and higher quality, longer lives for many of those
individuals whose cancers cannot yet be prevented or cured.
Trade Name
* New indication for 2012.
** New route of administration for 2012.
Where multiple trade names are used, only the most common have been listed.
Now, more than any other time in our history, cancer researchers
are maximizing the impact of the fundamental discoveries made
during the past four-plus decades and are translating them into
improved patient care. In the past 12 months alone (September
2011 through August 2012), the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) approved one new drug for treating precancerous lesions,
nine new drugs for treating cancers and three new uses for
previously approved drugs (see Table 1).
However, the vast complexity of cancer, which is in fact not one
disease but more than 200 different diseases, has meant that
advances have not been uniform for all forms of cancer (see
Table 2 p. 15). The good news is that the five-year survival rate for
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Table 2: Select Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Change in Death Rates (1990-2008)
est 2012
est 2012
All Malignant Cancers
Oral Cavity & Pharynx
Colon and Rectum
Liver & Intrahepatic Bile Duct
Lung & Bronchus
Melanoma of the skin
Cervix Uteri
Corpus and Uterus, NOS
Urinary Bladder
Kidney & Renal Pelvis
Brain & Other Nervous System
Hodgkin Lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
»»»» 30+
«««« 30+
Underlying mortality data provided by NCHS (www.cdc.gov/nchs).
Rates are per 100,000 and age-adjusted to the 2000 US Std Population
(19 age groups - Census P25-1130) standard.
*Both sexes.
all cancers is now about 65%. Significant progress has been made
against some cancers, such as breast cancer. The five-year survival
rate for female breast cancer patients is now 90% compared with
63% in the early 1960s (3). Another example is childhood acute
lymphocytic leukemia, where the five-year survival rate is now
greater than 90% versus 58% in the mid-1970s (3). In contrast, the
five-year survival rates for other cancers, such as pancreatic, liver
and lung cancers, remain very low at 6%, 14% and 16%,
respectively (3). Moreover, the burden of cancer is not distributed
evenly across the population, due to numerous interrelated factors
(see Sidebar on Cancer Health Disparities in America, p. 16).
These differences in survival rates underscore the great need for
continued research in discovery, translation and dissemination
Despite significant improvements in survival from many cancers, it
is estimated that more than 577,000 Americans will die from
cancer in 2012. Cancer will account for nearly one of every four
deaths, making it the second most common cause of death in the
U.S. If current trends continue, it will not be long before cancer is
the leading cause of death for Americans. It is therefore urgent that
our Nation continues to invest in the scientific research necessary
to develop effective preventive interventions and treatments.
American Association for Cancer Research
Change in Death Rates 1990-2008
In 1971, 1 in 69 Americans was a
cancer survivor.
Today, thanks to research, 1 in 23
Americans is a cancer survivor.
More than 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in
2012 (3), and it is estimated that more than 41% of individuals
born today will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their
lifetimes, which is nearly one out of every two Americans (4). The
number of cancer diagnoses is likely to increase dramatically in the
next few decades because cancer is predominantly a disease of
aging. The majority of all cancer diagnoses are among those aged
65 years and older (4, 5), a rapidly expanding segment of the
population (6, 7); see Fig. 1, p. 18). Compounding the problem is
the growing prevalence of obesity and the continued practice of
smoking, which are linked to an increased risk for several cancers
(8). The combination of these trends will magnify the already huge
economic burden of cancer.
The latest estimates from the NIH indicate that the overall
economic cost of cancer in the U.S. in 2007 was $226.8 billion (3),
Cancer Health Disparities
in America
While great strides have been made in cancer prevention and
treatment, certain groups experience noticeably higher incidence of
certain cancers than the general population and/or suffer significantly
poorer treatment outcomes. A disproportionately higher burden of
cancer falls on racial and ethnic minorities, as well as low-income
and elderly populations. The causes of these disparities are
numerous, complex, often interrelated and only partially understood.
Chief among them are unequal access to quality health services;
different behavioral, environmental and genetic risk factors; a lack of
minority and elderly inclusion in the development of new therapies;
and social and cultural biases that can negatively alter the
relationship between patients and healthcare providers. Addressing
these persistent cancer health disparities poses a significant
challenge for researchers and policymakers. Access and utilization of health services ranging from screening to
treatment are perhaps the most readily identifiable causes of
disparities in cancer outcomes. In the U. S., access is greatly affected
by insurance coverage, and while nationally 14% of the population is
uninsured, 37% of Latinos lack insurance, and 20% of African
Americans are uninsured (122, 123). Even when the lack of insurance
does not create a barrier to care, the availability of local providers and
healthcare facilities can create barriers. Furthermore, when care is
available, social and cultural biases can often inhibit patients from
accessing care (124), and when individuals seek care, the care they
receive can often depend on their race (125). Lastly, most cancer
therapies are derived from focused research that culminates in
clinical trials that determine whether experimental therapies should
be approved for general use, and while enrollment in cancer trials is
low for all patient groups, racial and ethnic minorities, and the elderly
are significantly under-represented in cancer clinical trials. This
means that therapies often enter widespread use without thorough
evaluation of their efficacy in all populations.
While access to healthcare can help explain differences in treatment
outcomes between certain groups, many cancer disparities emanate
from differences in cancer incidence. Groups vary in both genetic and
behavioral risk profiles, and it can often be difficult to untangle the
effects of the two since some racial and ethnic groups share not only
similar inherited genes, but also similar cultural practices like diet.
Increased access to genetic sequencing should make it easier for
future researchers to tease apart the contributions of the two. 16
Mutations in the BRCA genes are but one example of a genetic risk
factor that is more prevalent in a specific ethnic group than others,
which creates cancer disparities. For example, approximately 2.02.5% of women with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have one of three
specific mutations in the BRCA1and BRCA2 genes, which is about
five times the prevalence of this mutation in people of other
ethnicities (126). As a result, 60% of this population will develop
breast cancer in their lifetimes as compared to the 12% of women
in the general population who will do the same (127, 128).
Continued research will undoubtedly reveal other similar genetic
risk factors that disparately either drive cancer incidence or inhibit
effective treatment. Where genes are not the cause of disparities,
research will still be critical to identify causes and develop sound
evidence-based interventions to address cancer health disparities.
Asian Americans are twice as likely to
suffer from liver and stomach cancer than
the general population.
People of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have
an increased risk of several types of cancer,
including breast, ovarian, pancreatic and
colorectal cancers.
African American men and women have
higher rates of colorectal cancer and are
more likely to die from it than their white
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Lung cancer rates among Southeast Asians
are 18% higher than among non-Hispanic
white Americans.
Most cases of lung cancer among East
Asian women occur among never smokers,
suggesting that genetic and/or
environmental risk factors are involved.
Triple negative breast cancer is significantly
higher in African American women than all
other ethnicities (138, 139).
Hispanic and African American women have
a much higher incidence of cervical cancer
than white women.
Women of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are
also about five times more likely to have
one of three specific mutations in the
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes than people of
other ethnicities (126).
The incidence rate for leukemia is
approximately 17% higher among Hispanic
children than non-Hispanic white children.
American Indians/Alaska Natives have
higher rates of kidney and renal pelvis
cancer than their white counterparts.
African American men have far higher
death rates from prostate cancer than any
other racial or ethnic group(3).
American Indian/Alaska Native men
are 80% more likely to have liver and
intrahepatic bile duct cancer than
non-Hispanic white men.
American Indian/Alaska Native men
are nearly twice as likely to have and die
from stomach cancer as non-Hispanic
white men.
Differences in Cancer Incidence and Mortality
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 1: Aging Baby Boomers Predicted to Drive up Incidence of Cancer. The majority of all cancer diagnoses are made in those over the
age of 65 (blue line)(4). In 2010, individuals in this age group made up 13% of the U.S. population (5). In 2030, when all of the baby boomers will
be age 65 or older, this segment will be nearly 20% of the population (6). This change will be a big factor in pushing up the total numbers of
cancers diagnosed each year, with a 67% increase in cancer incidence anticipated for those over the age of 65 (B)(7).
making cancer the most costly disease to the Nation. Unless more
successful preventive interventions, early detection tools and
treatments can be developed, this cost will rise dramatically during
the next two decades.
Cancer prevention, in particular, is an area of great promise
because research has shown that about two out of every three
cancer deaths in the U.S. are due to preventable causes (3). Almost
one third are caused by tobacco use; about one third are related to
patients being overweight or obese, physically inactive and
consuming a diet poor in nutritional value; some are caused by
infectious agents for which we have vaccines; and many of the
deaths from melanoma are a result of prior excessive sun exposure
or use of indoor tanning facilities. Developing evidence-based
approaches to cancer prevention, including research related to
tobacco cessation, remains an area of active investigation.
higher than that from any other major disease, at $895 billion in
2008 (11), not including the direct costs of treating cancer.
Collaborations between U.S. cancer researchers and the
international cancer research community are essential to sharing
knowledge and leveraging resources to hasten the reduction in
cancer burden and improvement of global health.
At this point in time, continued progress in life-saving cancer
research is in jeopardy. NIH and NCI budgets have been declining
since 2003, and many promising scientific projects are not being
funded. This report captures many of the remarkable recent
advances that are the direct result of the dedicated work of
thousands of researchers who are now poised to exploit the
current scientific momentum to save more lives from cancer. This
will only be achieved if Congress provides the required support for
cancer research.
The number of newly diagnosed cases of cancer is rising not just in
the U.S., but throughout the world, with global numbers predicted
to rise from 12.7 million new cases in 2008 to 22.2 million by 2030
(9). Without major new advances in cancer research to facilitate the
successful development of effective preventive interventions and
treatments, this will translate into more than 13 million lives
claimed by cancer in 2030 (10). Moreover, of all causes of death
worldwide, cancer has the greatest economic impact from
premature death and disability. This global economic toll is 20%
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Why Cancer Research?
Research is our best defense against cancer. The Nation’s
investments in cancer research and biomedical science during the
past four-plus decades have produced remarkable progress in our
understanding of the events which initiate a number of cancers at
the molecular, cellular and tissue levels. Advances in cancer
research are now transforming patient care. We would not be on
our current path to revolutionizing cancer care if not for the
extraordinary endeavors of individuals working in numerous
research disciplines and technologies.
Today, we know that because cancer is extremely heterogeneous, it
is in fact not a single disease, but likely cosists of over 200
diseases. Further, we are beginning to understand that due to this
heterogeneity, nearly all cancers are comprised of a number of
different cancer subtypes, meaning that every person’s cancer is
unique in its composition. Despite the apparent complexity that this
diversity brings, decades of research have established that there
are a number of basic biological principles that underpin cancer
initiation, growth and spread to other sites in the body.
One of the most fundamental traits of cancer cells is their ability to
multiply uncontrollably. Normal cells only proliferate when the
balance of numerous factors instructs them to do so, by
progressing through a process called the cell cycle (see Fig. 2, p.
20). Various inputs determine whether or not a cell will enter this
cycle; these include the balance of growth-stimulating and growthsuppressing factors; the energy state of the cell, including nutrient
and oxygen levels; and the status of the environment that
surrounds the cell, called the microenvironment. This biological
system is dysfunctional in cancer cells.
A second characteristic central to cancer cells is their ability to
invade and destroy normal tissue surrounding them and to move to
and grow in other areas of the body, called metastasis. Metastasis
is the most lethal attribute of cancer cells. It is responsible for more
than 90% of the morbidity and mortality associated with cancer
(see Sidebar on Metastasis). Local invasion and metastasis are
complex processes, fueled by changes in the cancer cells and in
their interactions with their environments.
Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor
to other areas of the body where they establish new tumors. It
is responsible for more than 90% of the morbidity and mortality
associated with cancer. Studying the fundamental properties of
metastasis is essential to conquering cancer, because it is only
through research that we will be able to identify important
targets for the development of new therapies to prevent or treat
metastasis, and learn how to predict who will develop
metastatic cancer and require these therapies.
Already we have learned a great deal about this deadly
process, some of which explains why metastatic disease is so
difficult to treat. For example, virtually every step of the
metastatic process can be achieved through multiple different
means, giving the cancer cells many opportunities to
metastasize. This also means that blocking only one pathway
therapeutically will not be sufficient. In addition, we know that
cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body and then lie
dormant in this new location for years, becoming active again
later in life. A greater understanding of the factors that
contribute to tumor cell dormancy could lead to the
development of new therapies that have the potential to prevent
these dormant cells from reawakening.
Metastatic disease is a dire situation that requires an
immediate and complete therapeutic response in order to
prevent almost certain death. While recent research has
revealed that there is a genetic basis for susceptibility or
resistance to metastasis, creating new avenues for the
development of effective therapies, much more work is needed
if we are to develop a comprehensive understanding of this
complex process and make significant progress against cancer
and toward saving lives.
There have been 1,024,400 fewer
cancer deaths since 1990 and
1991 for men and women, respectively,
as a result of declining death rates.
The development of cancer is largely due to the accumulation of
genetic changes that lead to malfunctions in the molecular
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 2: Cancer Growth: Local and Global Influences. The initiation and growth of a cancer occurs locally and is largely due to accumulation
of genetic changes that lead to defects in the molecular machinery of cells, permitting them to multiply uncontrollably and survive when normal
cells would die (A and C)(see Sidebar on The Genetic Basis of Cancer). Uncontrolled proliferation occurs when normal control of a tightly
regulated cellular process called the cell cycle is lost (A). Interactions between cancer cells and their environment also strongly influence cancer
development and growth. For example, systemic factors in the circulation such as hormones and nutrients affect these processes (B), as does the
cancer’s ability to stimulate the creation of new blood vessels and lymphatic vessels to bring nutrients as well as escape to distant sites
(metastasize) (C) and its capacity to manipulate the immune system (D).
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
machinery of cells, permitting them to survive when normal cells
would die and to multiply uncontrollably and metastasize. In
addition, interactions between cancer cells and their
microenvironment profoundly affect these same processes. Cancerinfluencing factors that comprise the tumor microenvironment
include the matrix of proteins outside the cancer cell that support
the structure and function of the tissue in which the cancer is
growing; the creation of new blood and lymphatic vessels;
hormones; nutrients; and the immune system (see Fig. 2, p. 20).
Insight into the importance of inflammation, established by certain
cells of the immune system, in promoting cancer progression has
increased dramatically in the past few years. Persistent
inflammation—for example, that driven by infection with hepatitis
B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), or by continual exposure to
toxins like alcohol or asbestos—has been known for some time to
create an environment that fosters cancer cell survival,
proliferation, local invasion and metastasis. More recently, it has
become apparent that chronic inflammation in an organ or a region
of the body enables cells in that area to acquire the characteristics
needed for cancer formation.
In addition to better understanding the concept of tumor-promoting
inflammation, the last several decades of research have also
established the importance of the components of the immune
system that participate in antitumor defense. That knowledge has
stimulated developments of drugs designed to boost patients’
antitumor immunity.
Although we have learned a great deal about the unifying principles
that underpin cancer, translating this knowledge into cures remains
challenging because of the diversity of cancer types. Currently,
many areas of research are rapidly evolving, in part as a result of
technological advancements that are increasing our ability to probe
the genetic and molecular defects that drive cancer. With continued
federal investments, these endeavors will yield new discoveries that
improve the ways we prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer.
Cancer Research: From Concept to
Patient and Back Again
Figure 3: The Virtuous Cycle of Research. For the cancer
research enterprise to be efficient and effective it must be an
iterative cycle, with observations flowing from the bench to the
bedside and back again. Essential to this cycle is the
participation of all stakeholders, not only basic scientists,
physician-scientists and clinical researchers from a wide
variety of disciplines, but also cancer patients and survivors,
citizen advocates, philanthropic organizations, government,
biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, regulatory
agencies and healthcare payers; (see Fig. 21, p. 79). Adapted
from (140, 141).
1 out of 2 men and
1 out of 3 women
will be diagnosed with cancer
in their lifetimes.
If cancer research is to be truly successful, it must be an iterative
cycle, with observations flowing from the bench to the bedside and
back again (see Fig. 3). The participation of patients and their
health care providers is essential to this cycle because
observations made in clinical trials also help define areas for future
study, including the identification of new drug targets and the
refinement of treatment. Finally, cancer research does not operate
in isolation from other fields of research. Insights into the biology of
cancer and the identification of ways to prevent, detect, diagnose
and treat its many forms offer new ideas for the conquest of
other diseases.
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 4: Decryption of the Genetic Code. The genome is made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) units packaged into chromosomes that are
passed from parents to their offspring. It carries a blueprint that is deciphered by the cell to produce the various proteins needed to function.
Specific genes or collections of DNA are decoded into proteins through an intermediate known as ribonucleic acid (RNA). Information directing
which genes should be accessible for decoding in different cells of the body is conveyed by special chemical tags on the DNA, and by how the
DNA is packaged with proteins into chromosomes, which also contains similar chemical marks. The pattern of these chemical tags is called the
epigenome of the cell. A major recent advance has been the ability to examine the entire collection of DNA its chemical tags and packaging, RNA
and protein within a sample (NOW). Previously, each of these was studied individually (THEN).
The concept of taking an observation, making a discovery, turning it
into a tangible tool, drug or agent to be studied in the clinic, testing
the discovery in the clinic and ending up with a viable approach for
cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis or treatment is sometimes
called target-based discovery. It is not the only strategy for
developing new ways to reduce the tremendous burden of cancer,
but increasingly the advances reaching the clinic are the result of
target-based discovery programs (see Making Research Count
for Patients, p. 46). The following focuses on some of the more
frequently used ways in which those involved in basic and clinical
cancer research take an idea all the way to the patient.
Epidemiologists study the frequency,
distribution and patterns of risk factors,
diseases and health outcomes in
populations to better understand the
associations, interactions and causal
relationships between them.
Epidemiologists can be subdivided
based on the information that they
gather from the group(s) being studied;
for example, molecular epidemiologists
collect and analyze genetic and
molecular information.
Experimental Models of Cancer
In the laboratory, researchers study patient samples as well
as cells and animals that mimic what happens in healthy and
cancerous conditions.
A wide variety of cell types are used in cancer research. Some cells
can be grown continuously in the lab in such a way that each is
genetically identical, and these are called cell lines. Others are
primary cells, which are genetically diverse because they are
obtained directly from tissues. The tissues can be healthy or
cancerous and isolated from a human or animal. Cells can be
studied in dishes in the laboratory or after having been transferred
into animals.
Mice constitute the most commonly utilized animal models in all
areas of cancer research. Zebrafish have recently emerged as a
useful model for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer,
and for leukemias. Other animals are also used, but largely for
specific cancer types. For example, because some dog breeds
naturally develop certain cancers, they are good models for
studying the equivalent human diseases.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Probing Cancer Models: Generating and Testing Ideas
The study and manipulation of these models—for example,
exposing them to a potential new drug—can help identify useful
approaches for cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis or
treatment that can then be tested in the clinic. Various techniques
are used to probe cancer models, including but not limited to:
genetic, biochemical and cellular analyses.
The genetic code carries a blueprint that is deciphered by the cell
to produce the various proteins that it uses to function (see
Fig. 4, p. 22). Some genetic alterations result in the generation of
abnormal proteins that can fuel the development of cancer.
Alternatively, they may lead to the loss of other critical proteins that
usually maintain normal cellular functions (see Sidebar on the
Genetic Basis of Cancer). Tremendous technological advances in
recent years have made it possible to rapidly sequence the entire
genome of a cancer to reveal which genetic alterations are present.
Furthermore, these technologies can also detect changes in the
cancer’s epigenome, which is how the DNA is modified and
packaged into chromosomes.
Whether or not the observed genetic and epigenetic changes
contribute to cancer can be examined further by engineering cells
or animals to express the modification and by observing the
resultant changes in cell or animal behaviors. Previously,
researchers studied individual pieces of DNA, proteins and cell
metabolites as they pertain to cell function. Now, as a result of
innovative large-scale approaches, researchers can study the
entire set of DNA, proteins and metabolites in a sample. These new
approaches complement more traditional biochemical methods to
rapidly enhance our understanding of the structure and function of
cancer-associated proteins and their effects on cell behavior.
The Genetic Basis of Cancer
One of the greatest advances in cancer research was the
discovery that changes, or mutations, in genes can cause
cancer. The “genetic code”, carried in deoxyribonucleic acid
(DNA) units called bases is packaged into chromosomes that
are passed from parents to offspring. The entirety of a
person’s DNA is called a genome. The genetic code within our
genome is decoded to produce the various proteins that our
cells use to function; (see Fig. 4, p. 22).
In cancer, chromosomes sometimes break and recombine
causing large-scale changes within the genome. Genes can
also be altered by single mutations in DNA units. Over the
years, researchers have determined that cancer-associated
genetic mutations are often found in one of two classes of
genes: oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Oncogenes
can drive the initiation and progression of cancer by
producing abnormal proteins that permit cancer cells to
ignore normal proliferative regulatory signals. Tumor
suppressor genes encode proteins that normally stop the
emergence of cancer. Mutations in these genes result in
proteins that fail to function properly, enabling cancer cells to
proliferate unchecked.
The correlation of genetic mutations with specific
malfunctions of cellular molecular machinery that result in
cancerous cell behaviors has provided the impetus for the
development of many molecularly targeted cancer drugs,
bringing the prospects of a new day for cancer prevention,
detection, diagnosis and treatment closer to reality.
Figure 5: Follow the Signs to Cancer Prevention,
Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment. Biomarkers
are defined as cellular, biochemical and molecular
(including genetic and epigenetic) characteristics by
which normal and/or abnormal processes can be
recognized and/or monitored. Biomarkers are
measurable in biological materials, such as in
tissues, cells, and/or bodily fluids. Depicted are
examples of biomarkers in clinical use to help
assess a person’s cancer risk, detect a growing
cancer, make a cancer diagnosis, identify those
patients most likely to benefit from a specific
molecularly targeted therapy and modify treatment
decisions. In some cases, the biomarker used to
identify those patients most likely to benefit from a
specific molecularly targeted therapy is the same
biomarker used in the process of developing the
drug. The identification of additional biomarkers to
further improve cancer prevention, detection,
diagnosis and treatment is an area of intense
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 6: The Long and Difficult Road to a Clinically Useful Drug Candidate. The concept of target-based drug discovery now underpins the
development of most cancer medicines. Here, novel observations in a population, patients, tissues, animals or cells lead to target identification,
the identification of biological components that are potentially drugable. Target validation occurs through laboratory research, which determines
whether interfering with the target is likely to have an impact on cancer growth. In the early stages of drug development, going from target to hit,
large numbers of chemical or biological agents are screened to identify molecules that “hit” the target. Further basic scientific studies are
undertaken to home in on the most effective potential drug in a process called “hit to lead”, where the hits are further tested to determine which
bind the target with the most specificity and therefore show the most promise as a potential drug. The lead optimization process involves
refining the properties of the lead molecules to enhance potency and reduce side effects. Extensive preclinical testing for effectiveness of
optimized leads occurs mostly in animal models. The resulting new drug candidate is then studied in clinical trials (see Figure 7, p. 27) to
determine whether it improves patient outcomes. Adapted from (142).
Laboratory studies enable researchers to identify changes in genes
and proteins linked to cancer. Converting these discoveries into a
tool, drug or agent to be tested in the clinic can take many different
forms. Some of these validated discoveries identify biological
indicators, or biomarkers, which may be clinically useful (see Fig.
5, p. 25), while others can be developed into a potential drug
(see Fig. 6).
Moving Cancer Research into the Clinic
Before a tool, drug or agent developed through many years of work
in the laboratory can be used routinely in patient care, it must be
rigorously tested in clinical trials, which provide each patient with
the best care available. This step from the bench to the bedside
involves a vast array of approaches. The discussion here only
highlights some examples of how this step toward reducing the
burden of cancer is implemented.
Clinical researchers study a particular
person or group of people or use
materials from humans, such as their
behavior or samples of their tissue, to
learn about disease and the way the
healthy body works.
Basic scientists study animals, cells,
molecules or genes to gain new
knowledge about cellular and molecular
changes that occur naturally or during
the development of a disease.
In the case of a potential therapeutic for cancer treatment, clinical
trials with increasing numbers of patients are undertaken to
determine the safety and effectiveness of the potential therapy (see
Fig. 7, p. 25). Individuals participating in clinical trials are
monitored extremely closely. For example, levels of known cancer
markers in the urine or blood can be regularly checked to provide
information as to whether or not the drug is effective. Currently,
however, the predominant criteria used to determine whether a
new drug for cancer treatment benefits patients are: Does it stop
tumor growth or reduce its size? Does it increase the length of time
to renewed growth or spread, as assessed by tumor imaging? And
does it increase patient survival time?
In many clinical trials, tumor imaging is done using computed
tomography (CT) scanning, but other technologies can be used,
such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission
tomography (PET) using a radiolabeled tracer called
“In this time of severe budget constraints, Americans need to know that today’s basic research is
the engine that powers tomorrow’s therapeutic discoveries. They need to know that basic research
is the type of science that the private sector, which requires rapid returns on investment, cannot
afford to fund. They need to know that, because it is impossible to predict whence the next
treatment may emerge, the nation must support a broad portfolio of basic research.”
Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.,
Director, National Institutes of Health
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG; see Fig. 8, p. 26). As progress is made
in enhancing imaging capabilities, these scans can be incorporated
into clinical trials. It is hoped that as advances are made, they can
be used to shorten the process of drug development, with
significant reductions in tumor burden visible by imaging
techniques being used as a measure of drug effectiveness. This is a
very active area of cancer research, with multiple other approaches
being actively assessed for their utility in the same context.
Physician-scientists care for patients
and also work in a laboratory. In the
laboratory, physician-scientists may
perform clinical research or basic
Clinical Outcomes Go Back to the Laboratory
It is vital that what happens at the bedside is not the end of the
cancer research trail. Even if clinical studies indicate that the agent,
drug or tool can help reduce the burden of cancer and it is adopted
into routine clinical practice, continued monitoring of its safety and
benefits provides important information for improved use and
further innovation (see Fig. 3, p. 21 and Sidebar on Learning
Healthcare Systems, p. 27). For example, some tumors learn to
bypass initially efficacious treatments, and how that happens
needs to be determined in order to develop new and improved
therapies. In cases where there is no immediate gain observed in
the clinic, the knowledge amassed during the trial can be probed
for insights into why and how the treatment failed to have the
expected effects and how to improve upon it.
that clinical trials are an essential part of
drug development? They represent the
best care a patient can receive, but
fewer than 5% of adults diagnosed with
cancer participate in a clinical trial.
Figure 7: The Protracted Process of Drug Development. Once a candidate drug(s) has been identified (see the blue panels in this figure and
Figure 6), the company or companies developing them must get permission to test them in humans. This is done by filing an investigational new
drug application (IND) with the FDA. A successful IND allows the candidate drug(s) to be tested in patients in clinical trials (olive Phase 1, 2, and 3
rectangles). Clinical trials are multi-year assessments of the safety and efficacy of drugs, requiring increasing numbers of patients in subsequent
phases; see SIDEBAR on Molecularly Informed Clinical Trials. If a compound is successful in treating a given cancer, the company then files for
a new drug application (NDA), at which time the FDA will review the application and either approve or reject the drug based on the results of the
clinical trials; in some cases, the FDA will require further testing before approval can be granted (green FDA review rectangles). If the drug is
granted approval, a market authorization is given, and the company can begin marketing and selling the drug (green FDA review rectangles), once
they have produced enough of the drug to meet patient demand (green scale-up rectangle). Once a drug is on the market, physicians and patients
are encouraged to report any adverse reactions so that they can be tracked by the FDA and further investigation may be required; this is the postmarketing surveillance period, also known as pharmacovigilance (gold post-marketing surveillance rectangle). Adapted from pharma.org.
American Association for Cancer Research
Day 1
Day 4
Figure 8: Visualizing Cancer. Imaging is an increasingly essential part of modern cancer care, from routine screening and prevention to
informing diagnoses. More recently, imaging is being used to monitor response to therapy both in the clinic and during drug discovery. Not all
imaging, however, provides the same quantity or type of information. In the example shown, a routine mammography (A, mammogram) detected
no cancer, while MRI detected a tumor in the same breast (A, MRI) (143). Likewise, in this example FDG-PET revealed a bone metastasis (D, FDGPET), whereas the CT scan did not (D, CT) and the MRI analysis was unclear (D, MRI) (144). New types of imaging like FDG-PET are better able to
detect metastases (B, day 1) and show the patient’s tumor’s rapid response to therapy (B, day 4) (145). Increasingly, different types of imaging are
being combined to provide the most complete information possible. For example, the use of double contrast–MRI together with FDG-PET (C)
reveals the precise location and size of the tumor (146).
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Learning Healthcare Systems
Accumulation of evidence in a
learning healthcare system.
Evidence for efficacy is primarily
generated in a pre-market setting,
typically based on randomized clinical
trials. Evidence for effectiveness
accumulates over a longer period of
time, after market entry using a
variety of study methodologies. The
learning healthcare system, enhanced
by electronic medical records and HIT,
will dramatically facilitate the
generation of evidence of
effectiveness. Adapted from IOM
Roundtable On Value & Science-Based
Health Care, “The Learning Health
Care System and its Innovation
Collaboratives: Update Report 2011”
Learning healthcare systems generate and collect evidence from
the delivery of health care in everyday clinical settings. This
evidence is used to determine which interventions work best
and for whom when placed into broad clinical practice, with the
results feeding back into the data system to continually and
iteratively improve clinical care delivery. Thus, learning
healthcare systems complement the clinical trials process and
its goals by examining the effectiveness of interventions or their
utility in a real-world setting, rather than their efficacy or use in
the restricted populations and idealized settings involved in
clinical trials. In addition, although regulatory agencies like the
FDA require proof of efficacy for drugs and biologics before they
can be used clinically, other interventions such as imaging,
surgery or off-label drug use do not require the same scientific
scrutiny for efficacy, let alone demonstrations of effectiveness,
before entering widespread use. Learning from everyday
healthcare delivery is becoming a reality because of the
contributions of contemporary health information technology,
informatics, and the availability of real-time data and analytics.
The continual evaluation and modification of healthcare
interventions enabled by a learning healthcare system ensure
that the care delivered to patients is effective and efficient,
saving patients unnecessary treatment, wasted time and
added costs.
American Association for Cancer Research
Tools Used in a Learning Healthcare System:
• Health Information Technology (HIT): Data collection and
analysis infrastructure that enables digital recording of patient
information, diagnosis and treatment history along with
outcomes. These systems allow easier and more widespread
data access, opening up the possibility of secondary data use
for research purposes.
• Observational studies: Research that infers links between
treatments and outcomes based on natural—as opposed to
experimental—variations in treatment delivery. These analyses
are often applied in retrospect in a learning healthcare system
• Pragmatic clinical trials: Randomized experiments designed
to test effectiveness of an intervention in normal clinical
settings with attendant natural confounding factors.
• Registries: Databases organized around specific diseases or
interventions (e.g., cancer or implanted defibrillator) that
record patient and outcome information.
• Patient-reported outcomes: Effects of treatment as reported
directly by a patient (e.g., pain, fatigue, mood, mobility, quality
of life, etc.)
• Quality measures: Standardized metrics that indicate the
degree of attainment of idealized treatment or outcomes goals.
Prevention and
Early Detection
Advances in cancer prevention and early detection have resulted in
some of the greatest reductions in cancer mortality, and these have
been achieved with remarkable impact by translating scientific
discoveries into actions by two complementary strategies: public
health initiatives involving education and policy, and personalized
initiatives applied in the clinic. Public health measures have
included public education regarding common cancer risks (such as
physical inactivity and unhealthy diets) and policy development to
minimize harmful exposures (such as smoke-free workplaces or
asbestos remediation laws). Clinical preventive advances include
improved screening practices (e.g., colonoscopy to detect and
remove precancerous colorectal polyps) and targeted interventions
(e.g., administering vaccines for infectious diseases associated
with cancer risk).
This progress has come from decades of research that have led us
to our current understanding of how cancers develop. We know
that cancer is a complex process that takes place over a period of
time, sometimes several decades. Most, if not all, tumors arise as a
result of a series of changes in our genes or in the molecules that
control how and when our genes are expressed. Our knowledge of
the timing, sequence and frequency of the pivotal changes
underlying tumor development is increasing, as is our insight into
the specific implications of these changes. This provides us with
unique opportunities for earlier identification of aberrations and
therefore new prospects for developing the means to prevent
cancer onset or to detect it and intervene earlier in its progression.
We have also learned that cancer risk factors are varied, complex
and interrelated, making it challenging, but not insurmountable, to
deliver on the promise of cancer prevention. The identification of
research priorities along with the necessary funding will help to
accelerate progress in this important area.
of all deaths in the U.S.
are caused by cancer.
of cancer deaths are a result
of preventable causes.
To Know Your Risk,
Know the Causes of Cancer
Causes of Cancer You Can Avoid
Through the identification of numerous factors germane to cancer,
scientists have come to the conclusion that almost two thirds of the
more than 577,000 cancer deaths expected to occur in the U.S. in
2012 will be related to preventable causes [(3); see Fig. 9, pg. 29].
Tobacco Use and Cancer: Smoking-Gun Evidence
One of the most successful examples of how scientific progress
can inform public policy and educational efforts to measurably
reduce cancer incidence and death rates is the 29% decline in lung
cancer death rates among men that occurred between 1990 and
2008, which is directly attributable to the decrease in smoking
prevalence (4). The scientifically established causal relationship
between smoking and cancer, which began with epidemiological
observations, gained prominence in the public arena in 1964 when
the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was
published (12). This report set in motion major U.S. policy changes,
media campaigns and other measures to combat cigarette smoking
(see Fig. 10, pg. 30). As a result of these efforts, the prevalence of
smoking in the U.S. decreased from 42% of the population in 1965
to 19% in 2010 (13). This decrease has been credited with saving
millions of lives that would otherwise have been lost not only to
lung cancer, but also to 17 other types of cancer directly related to
tobacco use, including head and neck, stomach, pancreas,
cervical and other cancers (13), as well as to many other often
fatal diseases.
Despite this progress, tobacco use will still be responsible for an
estimated 30% of all cancer deaths that occur in the U.S. in 2012
(3). The Surgeon General’s 31st report on tobacco (14), released in
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Estimated Percentage of Cancer Cases Caused by Identifiable and/or Potentially Preventable Factors
Figure 9: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure. The majority of cancers diagnosed today are a result of preventable causes,
including smoking, obesity, poor dietary habits and physical inactivity. Many of these cancers could be prevented by modifying personal
behaviors, although continued research is necessary to identify better ways to help address these behaviors. Data obtained from (147).
cancers in addition to lung
cancer are caused by smoking?
2010, concludes that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco
smoke. Yet, 70 million Americans regularly use tobacco products,
and every day in 2010, 6,500 Americans aged 12 years and older
smoked their first cigarette (15). It is not only the lives of those who
use tobacco products that are at risk; scientific evidence has
shown that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke also causes
cancer. Although this has led to some important public health
policies restricting smoking in public places, countless lives could
be saved in the future through continued research to develop and
implement effective tobacco prevention, cessation and control
strategies such as those described in “Tobacco and Cancer: An
AACR Policy Statement” [(16); see Fig. 11, pg. 30 and Sidebar on
Tobacco Tax, pg. 31].
adenocarcinoma subtype of esophageal cancer and to pancreatic,
colorectal, kidney, endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancers
(8). Mounting evidence indicates that obesity is also associated
with an increased risk for other cancers, including gallbladder and
liver cancers (8). In line with the dramatic increase in incidence of
obesity, incidence of several of these cancers, including pancreatic,
kidney and liver cancers, have increased during the past 10 years
(17). Independent of weight, a lack of regular physical activity is
associated with an increased risk for colon, endometrial and
postmenopausal breast cancers and also may be associated with
lung, pancreatic and premenopausal breast cancers (8).
Obesity and physical inactivity are not just associated with
increased cancer risk. They also negatively impact tumor
recurrence, metastasis and patient survival for several types of
cancers (17). Among patients with breast cancer (18), colorectal
Obesity and Physical Inactivity Weigh in on Cancer
Data from numerous epidemiological studies have revealed that
obesity is clearly linked to an increased risk for the
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 10: Public Health Initiatives Work. Cigarette consumption grew rapidly during the first half of the last century and began declining beginning
with the Surgeon General’s 1964 report that tied lung cancer to smoking. While a number of factors, including advertising and distribution of free
cigarettes in army rations, drove up smoking in the early part of the century, a range of public antismoking policies implemented beginning in the
1970s (beige boxes), including tobacco tax increases, smoke-free laws, warning labels and advertising bans, has successfully driven down cigarette
consumption in the latter half of the century. There is usually a 20- to 30-year lag time between the onset of smoking and the development of lung
cancer, and the causal connection between tobacco use and lung cancer is clearly seen in the parallel trends of cigarette use and the corresponding
incidence of male lung cancer, peaking and declining with lag time of approximately 20 years. Adapted from “Achievements in Public Health, 19001999: Tobacco Use -- United States, 1900-1999,” MMWR November 05, 1999 / 48(43);986-993.
cancer (19) or prostate cancer (20), excess weight is associated
with poorer outcomes; conversely, physical activity in patients with
these diseases has been shown to improve outcomes (21, 22).
Although trends in the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. finally seem
to be stabilizing, the number of individuals classified as obese is
still at an all-time high. The latest figures indicate that more than
35% of adults and almost 17% of children and adolescents are
obese (23). Similar proportions of individuals are considered
physically inactive (17). These unparalleled levels of obesity and
physical inactivity are important, avoidable causes of approximately
one third of cancer deaths (3).
The estimated direct medical costs
associated with treating cancer in 2007
were $103.8 billion dollars and $123.0
billion for costs associated with loss of
productivity due to premature death.
Research on a number of fronts indicates that if Americans were to
modify their lifestyle to include regular physical activity, a balanced
diet and a healthy weight, millions of people could reduce their risk
of a cancer diagnosis. In recent years, several cities and states
have adopted public policies to enable people to make healthier
choices. However, additional research is required to develop and
implement effective policy changes and media campaigns. In
addition, continued fundamental research efforts are needed to
better understand the biological mechanisms that link obesity and
insufficient physical activity with cancer. Armed with this
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
that increased risk for at least
cancers are linked to obesity and
information, we may be able to develop clinical and
pharmacological interventions to reduce the cancer burden
resulting from obesity. Population and clinical studies that
complement basic science endeavors will be necessary to
determine the optimum body type, body composition and exercise
program to reduce cancer risk and recurrence.
Ultraviolet Light: Reflecting on a Cause of Cancer
Researchers have clearly established a causal relationship between
excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is a form of
radiation emitted by the sun, sunlamps and tanning beds, and all
three of the main types of skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma,
squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Skin cancer is the most
prevalent of all cancers in the U.S. Researchers have estimated
that in 2012, there will be more than 2 million new cases of basal
cell and squamous cell carcinoma (24) and 76,250 new cases of
melanoma (3). The majority of non-melanoma skin cancers are
highly curable when treated early, although a small fraction will
progress to life-threatening metastatic tumors [see Donna
Johnson’s Story, p59; (25]). Melanoma, although accounting for
less than 5% of skin cancer cases, is the predominant cause of
skin cancer death (3).
Tobacco Tax
Increasing the price of tobacco products has been proven to
reduce tobacco use, as indicated by the strong relationship
between increases in cigarette prices in the U.S. from 1970 to
2007 and decreases in consumption (129, 130). This
approach is particularly effective for children, who are two to
three times more price sensitive than adults (131). In addition,
it has been estimated that the April 2009 federal tobacco
excise tax increase of 61 cents per pack reduced the number
of smokers among middle and high school students in May
2009 by approximately 220,000–287,000 (132).
However, price increases alone will not stop all individuals
from using tobacco products, and a comprehensive, evidencebased tobacco control policy employs price deterrents in
combination with other proven measures in public education
such as school-based programs or public advertising
campaigns; federal, state, and regional regulations regarding
the pricing or restricted sale or use of tobacco products; and
clinical programs to provide the full range of cessation
services or facilitate smokers’ connections to public
resources such as quitlines.
Smoking falls 2.5-5%
for every 10% increase
in the price of cigarettes.
The overwhelming majority of skin cancers could be prevented if
everyone avoided intense sun exposure. Thus, experts have
recommended that people seek shade and limit time in the sun,
Figure 11: Anti-Smoking Efforts: All Over
the Map. As of January 2012, 29 states and
Washington, D.C. (blue) have enacted
statewide smoke-free air laws that cover
workplaces, restaurants and bars. Many
cities and counties in the gold color states
also have such laws, whereas the blackcolored states have no smoke-free
statewide laws, and few or no cities in these
states are protected by such smoke-free
laws. These efforts help to eliminate
exposure to secondhand smoke, which is
known to cause lung cancer in nonsmokers,
resulting in an estimated 3,400 deaths
annually in the United States (148).
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 12: Catching a Cause of Cancer. Globally, more than 16% of the new cancer diagnoses made in 2008 were estimated to be attributable to
infection with one or more bacteria, viruses or parasites (33). Table 3, p. 33 indicates which cancers are associated with which microorganism. As
the proportion of some cancers attributed to infection with a microorganism is close to 100%—for example, nearly all cases of cervical cancer are
linked to certain types of human papillomaviruses (HPV) and at least 80% of liver cancers in most parts of the world are associated with Hepatitis
B and/or C (HBV and/or HCV)—it is evident that appropriate immunization or removal of the underlying infection, when done early, can have a large
impact on the global burden of cancer.
especially around midday; cover up with a shirt; wear a widebrimmed hat; use sunglasses for eye protection; and apply a
sunscreen rated SPF15 or higher at least every two hours. Adopting
sun-safe habits is undoubtedly an important cancer prevention
approach, as indicated by research showing that daily sunscreen
use can cut the incidence of melanoma in half (26). However, more
risk communication needs to be done to bring this to the attention
of the general public.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an affiliate
of the World Health Organization, includes UV tanning devices in its
highest cancer-risk category, “carcinogenic to humans” (27),
alongside agents such as plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV
that sun bed use before the age of 35
doubles risk of melanoma?
that ANYONE can get skin cancer?
However, non-Hispanic whites and men
over 50 are at a higher risk of developing
melanoma than the general population.
radiation. Avoiding the use of tanning beds and sunlamps would
therefore decrease the incidence of skin cancer. However, tens of
millions of Americans visit tanning salons each year (28). According
to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, this number includes more than 13% of all high school
students and 21% of high school girls (29).
Faced with the overwhelming scientific evidence that tanning bed
use increases an individual’s risk for developing skin cancer and
that the risk increases with younger age (30), some states, counties
and cities in the U.S. have enacted legislation banning minors from
using tanning beds. In other regions, however, similar initiatives
have fallen short of approval (31).
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Table 3: Infectious Causes of Cancer
Infectious Agent
Helicobacter pylori
Stomach cancers
Infectious Agent
Clonorchis sinensis
Opisthorchis viverrini
Schistosoma haematobium
Biliary cancer, pancreatic cancer,
and gallbladder cancer
Biliary cancer, pancreatic cancer,
and gallbladder cancer
Bladder cancer
Infectious Agent
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
Hepatitis B/C Virus (HBV and HCV)
Human Immunodeficiency
Virus (HIV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human T-cell Lymphotrophic
Virus, type 1 (HTLV-1)
Merkel Cell Polyomavirus (MCV)
Stomach cancers, Hodgkin's and
non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, and
nasopharyngeal cancers
Hepatocellular carcinoma
Kaposi's sarcoma and
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Cervical, anogenital, head and
neck, and oral cancers
T-cell leukemia and lymphoma
Skin cancer
Preventing skin cancer by protecting skin from intense sun
exposure and avoiding indoor tanning would not only limit the
morbidity and mortality caused by these conditions, but would also
save enormous amounts of money. For example, it has been
estimated that the total direct cost associated with the treatment of
melanoma in 2010 was $2.36 billion in the U.S. (32). Given that
melanoma incidence rates continue to increase (3), all sectors with
a stake in reducing skin cancer burden—from patients, to
researchers, to politicians seeking to balance their budgets—need
to come together to develop and implement more effective policy
changes and media campaigns.
Infectious Agents: Catching a Cause of Cancer
Research has revealed that infection with one of several
microorganisms is an important cause of some cancers. The latest
data indicate that worldwide, more than 16% of the new cancer
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare
but aggressive form of skin cancer, first
described in 1972. Not until 2008, after
considerable research efforts, was it
discovered that a new human virus,
Merkel cell polyomavirus, was found in
about 80% of cases. Further research
has determined that Merkel cell
polyomavirus increases expression of a
known cancer-promoting protein called
surviving; thus, targeting this protein
could provide a new approach to
treating Merkel call carcinoma.
diagnoses made in 2008, amounting to approximately 2 million
affected individuals, were attributable to infections [(33); see Fig.
12, p. 32]. In the U.S. and other developed countries, this fraction
was lower (7.4%) than in less-developed countries (22.9%).
Several infection-associated cancers have high mortality rates, and
preliminary estimates suggest that up to 20% of cancer deaths, or
1.5 million deaths, in 2008 were attributable to infections (33).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists 10
microorganisms in its highest cancer-risk category, “carcinogenic to
humans” [(34); see Table 3]. These include the bacterium
Helicobacter pylori; human papillomavirus (HPV); hepatitis B virus
(HBV); hepatitis C virus (HCV); Epstein-Barr virus (EBV); human T cell
lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1); human herpes virus type 8
(HHV-8; also known as Kaposi’s sarcoma herpes virus); the parasitic
liver flukes Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorchis sinensis; and the
parasite Schistosoma haematobium. Recently, researchers have
identified Merkel cell polyomavirus as the seventh virus directly
linked to human cancers (35). Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
is also associated with an increased risk for several types of cancer,
but it is not considered carcinogenic because its effects are
indirect—they are due to the effects of the virus on the immune
system (see Cancer-Predisposing Medical Conditions, p.41).
The knowledge that infection with certain microorganisms can
cause specific cancers has had a substantial effect on cancer
prevention strategies. It has enabled the identification of individuals
at elevated risk for developing cancer as well as the development
of new methods for prevention and treatment. One of the best
examples of how scientific discovery can lead to both of these key
aspects of cancer prevention relates to HPV which is estimated to
“Thanks to prevention efforts and breakthroughs in cancer research, many more people are
becoming cancer survivors rather than breast cancer victims.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Co-Chair of the Senate Cancer Coalition
American Association for Cancer Research
have been responsible for almost 39,000 new cases of cancer in
the U.S. in 2010 and more than 9,500 deaths (36).
As a result of several decades of research, we now know that
persistent infection with certain strains of HPV can cause cervical
cancer, a substantial proportion of anogenital cancers, and some
head and neck cancers (33). This information led to the
development of a clinical test that detects the presence of cancercausing types of HPV. The test, when combined with a standard
Papanicolaou (Pap) test for cervical cancer, enables earlier
identification of women at high risk for cervical cancer and safely
extends cervical cancer screening intervals (37).
experienced by Shaundra L. Hall. Continued research in this area
holds great promise for our conquest of certain cancers, but it will
not have the desired effects without comprehensive approaches to
public education and public health policy implementation—both of
which are essential if cancer prevention advances are to be
deployed to all those who could benefit.
HPV Vaccine Usage
• Coverage for one dose of HPV vaccine for girls increased by
only 4.4 percentage points to about 49 percent (48.7% in
2010 vs 44.3% in 2009).
Determining which strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer also
fueled the development of vaccines to prevent persistent infection
with these HPV types. The FDA has approved two vaccines for use
in females aged nine to 25 years old for the prevention of cervical
cancer caused by high-risk HPV strains. Both vaccines are highly
effective at preventing precancerous cervical lesions caused by
these HPV strains (36). The FDA also approved one of the vaccines,
Gardasil, for use in females aged nine to 26 for the prevention of
vulvar and vaginal precancerous lesions as well as in both males
and females aged nine to 26 for the prevention of HPV-associated
anal cancer (see Sidebar on HPV Vaccine Usage). Future studies
will determine whether the vaccines also reduce the risk for head
and neck cancers caused by HPV.
• For girls who received the recommended three doses of
HPV vaccine, coverage increased five points to just 32
percent (32% in 2010 vs. 26.7% in 2009).
Our increasing knowledge about infectious causes of cancer
provides opportunities for tremendous progress in reducing the
health care and economic burden of certain cancers, like that
Adapted from the CDC National Immunization Survey – 2010 Teen Survey
available here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/
• Of the girls who began the HPV vaccine series, 30% did not
receive all three doses.
• Completion of the three-dose HPV series was lower among
blacks and Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites
• Health insurance coverage for three doses of HPV vaccine
was lower for those living below poverty.
• Poor and minority teens are less likely to receive all three
recommended doses of the HPV vaccine.
• The CDC estimates that 1.4% of males age 13–17 years
have received at least one dose of HPV vaccine.
Figure 13: Energetic Causes of Cancer. Exposure to ionizing
radiation is linked to the development of certain cancers, in particular,
leukemias and cancers of the breast, lungs, brain and thyroid (39). The
majority of ionizing radiation to which the U.S. population is exposed is
natural background radiation; the rest comes from man-made
sources, most prominently medical x-rays.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Shaundra L. Hall
Age 42
Glendale, Ariz.
I am a 14-year cervical cancer survivor whose experience ignited a
passion for educating the public—and parents in particular—about
gynecological cancers and the fact that FDA-approved vaccines can
now prevent many of these cancers.
In 1999, I was diagnosed with stage I squamous cell carcinoma of the
cervix, when I was just 28 years old. My husband and I were trying to
start a family, and after no success for about 10 months, I returned to
my gynecologist for testing. I am very thankful that I did, because in
the approximately 10 months since my previous clean Pap test, an
aggressive tumor had grown on my cervix.
I had always been vigilant about having Pap tests each year, and for
the prior four years, my results had been normal. Previously, I had had
many years of abnormal Pap test results, leading to various
procedures to remove affected cervical tissue, but I was still surprised
to find out that I had developed invasive cancer. I now understand that
I must have been suffering from persistent HPV infection for many
years, even though there was not a lot of information published about
the link between HPV and cervical cancer at that time.
Unlike several friends who had previously gone through cancer
treatment, I did not have any chemotherapy or radiotherapy after my
surgery. I really questioned that decision. However, my clinical team
was confident that the surgical intervention was adequate, and now
that I know more about chemotherapy, I recognize that it was the
appropriate decision at that time. I did have follow-up Pap tests and
scans every three months for a few years to check for any recurrence
or metastasis, but now I am happy to say my only maintenance
includes my yearly well-woman exam and Pap test.
Regrettably, I never received reproductive counseling. As a result, I
was not aware until several years later that it would have been
possible to have some of my eggs frozen, so that my husband and I
could have had biological children with the help of a gestational
carrier (surrogate). Even though the treatment left me unable to have
children, I have been in remission for more than 14 years now and I
am so thankful that I am able to live a very robust and fulfilling life.
Thanks to my status as a cancer survivor, I am able to act more
effectively as a patient advocate. I volunteer for the National Cervical
Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and use my cancer experience positively to
educate people about gynecological cancers in particular. Cervical
cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer and penile cancer are cancers that
people do not particularly like to talk about, and it is important to let
people know that these are not anything to be ashamed of. We are all
in this together, as many of these cancers are often caused by HPV
infection. My journey also led me to my career at Cancer Treatment
Centers of America in Arizona, where I am fortunate to work and help
others in their fights against cancer.
It is so vital that we educate the public about the FDA-approved HPV
vaccines. This is one of my passions because it is critical parents
understand the available information so they are able to make an
educated decision along with their child’s physician as to what the
best course is for their child. I know that if I had children, I would
absolutely have them vaccinated. I encourage any parent looking for
more information regarding HPV or the FDA-approved vaccines to
contact the NCCC (www.nccc-online.org) or the American Social
Health Association (www.ashastd.org).
American Association for Cancer Research
that at least
cancers have been
linked to alcohol intake?
evidence base in this area. Designing scientific studies to
determine the contribution of a single dietary component is very
challenging. Despite this, it is imperative that we continue to build
upon our knowledge of the causes of cancer and increase the
number of cancers that we can prevent through behavioral
modifications such as consuming a healthy, balanced diet consisting
of high amounts of fruit, non-starchy vegetables and fiber.
Diet and Cancer: You Are What You Eat and Drink
Causes of Cancer That Are Hard to Avoid
Dietary factors are important, but they do not appear to be
uniformly relevant to all forms of cancer. The strongest scientific
evidence is for alcohol intake, which has been linked to an
increased risk for developing mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus,
liver, colorectal and breast cancers (8). For each of these cancers,
the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed, as
highlighted by a recent study showing that even a few alcoholic
drinks per week increase a woman’s breast cancer risk (38).
Developing and implementing more effective public health policies,
media campaigns and education initiatives will be key to
decreasing alcohol consumption, with the latter being particularly
important given that almost 39% of high school students report
current alcohol use (29).
For dietary factors other than alcohol, only limited research
conducted thus far supports a direct link to cancer risk (8). Red
meat and processed meat are both clearly associated with an
increased risk for colorectal cancer, but for other cancers, their
influence on risk is less certain scientifically. Moreover, no
unequivocal evidence of preventive effects exists for any dietary
factor, although some studies indicate the risk for some cancers is
reduced through the consumption of fruits, vegetables and fiber.
The complexities of the relationship between food and nutrient
intake and cancer risk are a key reason for the lack of a strong
We have discussed cancer risk factors that are possible to avoid,
but there are other factors that are more difficult to elude.
Ionizing Radiation: Energizing Cancer
Extensive epidemiological and biological evidence links exposure to
ionizing radiation with the development of cancer, in particular,
leukemias and breast, lung, brain and thyroid cancers (39). Ionizing
radiation is emitted from both natural and man-made sources (see
Fig. 13, p. 34). In the U.S., 82% of annual exposure to ionizing
radiation is composed of natural background radiation; the
remaining 16% comes from man-made sources (39).
The main natural source of ionizing radiation is radon gas, which is
released from the normal decay of certain components of rocks
and soil. It usually exists at very low levels outdoors, but can
accumulate to dangerous levels in areas without adequate
ventilation, such as underground mines and home basements.
Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer after
smoking and is responsible for between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths
from lung cancer per year (40). This information led to policies for
reducing exposure through home and business inspections and
methods to contain or eliminate the source when possible.
Increased awareness, along with further deployment of mitigation
strategies, should further reduce the incidence of lung cancer
caused by these exposures.
The predominant man-made source of ionizing radiation is medical
equipment, treatments and diagnostic agents. Experts are
concerned about the recent dramatic rise in the frequency of X-ray
use for diagnostic purposes, such as CT scans (39). Thus,
approaches are underway to limit radiation exposure from
diagnostic CT scans with the use of new low-dose scanners. Also,
educational programs have been launched to reduce the number of
“[This] is the time to reaffirm our further commitment to finding treatments, cures and better tools
for prevention, building on the momentum of recent years. As the members of the American
Association for Cancer Research and their partners continue their quest for cancer prevention and
cures, Congress must stand behind them and invest in our research infrastructure.”
Representative Lois Capps (D-CA-23rd)
Co-Chair of the House Cancer Caucus
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Cancer Survivorship
According to the NCI, a cancer survivor is anyone living with,
through or beyond a cancer diagnosis. Over the past several
decades, tremendous advances have been made in the field of
cancer research, and as a result, a large and growing community of
cancer survivors now exists. For example, prior to 1970, being
diagnosed with cancer during childhood was considered a
universally fatal disease, whereas there are now approximately
300,000 survivors of pediatric cancer in the U.S, and the five-year
survival rate is over 80%. Progress has been made against many
other cancers as well, and the number of people living today with a
history of cancer has risen to over 13.7 million — a significant
increase from the 3 million survivors living in 1971(1).
Long-term survivorship is also increasing: in the U.S. in 2012, an
estimated 64% survivors were diagnosed with cancer five or more
years ago and 15% were diagnosed 20 or more years ago. Nearly
50% of the current survivor population is 70 years of age or older,
while only 5% are younger than 40. Earlier cancer detection and
more effective treatments, along with the aging population, are
expected to further increase the number of individuals living well
beyond a cancer diagnosis.
While rising survivorship in and of itself is a sign of progress against
cancer, survivors may suffer serious and persistent long-term
adverse outcomes. Cancer survivors are at increased risk for and
develop psychosocial and physiologic long-term and late effects of
cancer treatment, including but not limited to: anxiety, depression,
fear of cancer recurrence, damage to the heart, lung and kidney,
cognitive impairment and infertility. Additionally, survivors are at risk
for recurrence of the original cancer or the development of a new,
biologically distinct, second primary cancer.
Adolescent and young adult oncology (AYAO) survivors, age 15–39
years, along with pediatric cancer survivors, face a unique set of
challenges compounded by their stage of life. For the AYAO
population, two out of every three childhood cancer survivors will
develop at least one complication due to their prior therapy, and one
out of every three will develop serious or life-threatening
complications. Further, recent studies have concluded that AYAO
survivors are at higher risk for engaging in risky health behaviors
known to increase cancer risk, such as smoking and drinking,
which puts them at higher risk for developing additional
cancers (133).
Following treatment, a person diagnosed with cancer may be faced
with critical problems that diminish quality of life. The new research
focus on cancer survivorship promises to play a significant role in
the reduction of long-term and late effects. After decades of focus
on cancer treatments and the attendant successes emerging from
those efforts, researchers now face the challenge of helping the
increased number of survivors achieve a higher quality of life by
avoiding or diminishing the potential late adverse health
consequences of successful therapies. By gaining a better
understanding of the issues confronting cancer survivors, the
cancer research community can continue to play an integral role in
meeting the needs of survivors, their loved ones and future
Americans diagnosed with this dreaded disease.
American Association for Cancer Research
these procedures and to reduce radiation doses to what is
medically essential.
Although high-dose radiation therapy is clearly beneficial for cancer
treatment, patients are at increased risk for developing a second
cancer, particularly pediatric patients. Given that the number of
cancer survivors in the U.S. alone is now estimated at more than
13.7 million (3), this is a growing concern (see Sidebar on Cancer
Survivorship). Research is needed to determine ways to identify
those patients who are most sensitive to the negative health effects
of radiation.
Environmental Pollutants: A Murky Link to Cancer
The identification of environmental and workplace agents that cause
cancer continues to be an important area of epidemiological and
toxicological research. One of the most well-established links
between an environmental pollutant and cancer is that between
inhalation of asbestos and mesothelioma (41), an aggressive form of
cancer for which new treatment options are urgently needed. The
scientific determination of this causal relationship led to the use of
preventive interventions and the implementation of important public
health policies. However, asbestos remains a relevant risk factor
today because it is still used in some commercial products within
the U.S. In addition, not all the asbestos used in the last century has
been removed. Moreover, erionite, a natural mineral fiber from
volcanic ash that is similar to asbestos, is more potent than
asbestos in causing mesothelioma and has been used in paving
products in certain parts of the U.S. (42).
Many other environmental agents are classified as “likely to be
cancer-causing” or “known to be carcinogenic” (41, 43). These
agents include arsenic; pesticides; solvents used in the drycleaning industry and in paint thinners, paint and grease removers;
dioxins, which are unwanted byproducts of chemical processes
such as paper and pulp bleaching; polycyclic aromatic
not only does tobacco use cause cancer,
but there is a 5% reduction in
the effectiveness of cancer treatment
while smoking?
Table 4: Inherited Cancer Risk
Associated Gene
Leukemias and lymphomas
All cancers
Breast, ovarian, pancreatic,
and prostate cancers
Breast, thyroid and endometrial cancers
Colorectal cancer
Retinal cancer
Colorectal cancer
Pancreatic cancer
Leukemias, breast, brain and
soft tissue cancers
Pancreatic cancers, pituitary adenomas,
benign skin and fat tumors
Thyroid cancer, pheochromacytoma
Pancreatic, liver, lung, breast, ovarian,
uterine and testicular cancers
Tumors of the spinal cord, cerebellum,
retina, adrenals, kidneys
Kidney cancer
Skin cancer
Ataxia telangiectasia
Bloom syndrome
Breast-ovarian cancer syndrome
Cowden syndrome
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
Familial atypical multiple mole–melanoma syndrome (FAMM)
Familial retinoblastoma
Fanconi's anemia
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer/Lynch syndrome
Hereditary pancreatitis/familial pancreatitis
Multiple endocrine neoplasia 1
Multiple endocrine neoplasia 2
Peutz–Jeghers syndrome
von Hippel-Lindau syndrome
Wilms’ tumor
Xeroderma pigmentosum
hydrocarbons, which primarily come from burning wood and fuel
for homes but are also contained in gasoline and diesel exhaust;
and metals like those contained in rechargeable batteries. Further
study is required if we are to remain vigilant in our detection of
cancer-causing agents in our environment and workplaces and to
enhance our ability to determine who has been exposed.
contraceptives (birth control pills) or medications to treat symptoms
of menopause and other gynecological conditions. Epidemiological
studies clearly indicate that oral contraceptive use decreases the
risk for endometrial and ovarian cancer, and researchers have
estimated that during the past 50 years, 200,000 cases of ovarian
cancer and 100,000 deaths from the disease were prevented
worldwide through the use of oral contraceptives (44).
Hormones: A Natural Boost to Cancer
Scientific evidence has established that hormones modify a
woman’s risk for breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers. In
particular, natural hormonal and reproductive factors that expose
breast tissue to high levels of hormones for longer periods of
time—beginning menstruation at an early age, experiencing
menopause at a late age, first becoming pregnant at a late age and
not having children at all—are linked to a small increase in breast
cancer risk. Knowing these facts is a key component in
determining a woman’s likelihood for developing breast cancer.
In addition to the estrogen and progesterone produced by their own
bodies, women are exposed to these hormones when they use oral
The contribution of menopausal hormone therapy to cancer risk is
an area of ongoing investigation. Several large epidemiological
studies, including the Women’s Health Initiative and the Million
Women Study, revealed that therapies containing both estrogen and
progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, increase
breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women who have a uterus
(45, 46). Subsequent studies suggest, however, that the risk
increase is not uniform for all women. More research is needed to
clarify this issue.
The role of hormones in cancer causation is complicated further by
environmental estrogens. Some epidemiological evidence indicates
that plant-based, weak estrogens, such as those derived from soy
products, may be beneficial, but only when consumed over a
lifetime and perhaps only in Asian populations (47). Furthermore,
new research is examining the influence of hormone-like
substances in the environment, like those found in plastic
containers and metal food cans. This emerging area of research
illustrates the power of our biological and epidemiological
knowledge of carcinogenesis in the evaluation of potential harm
from modern-day products.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
How Do I know If I Am at
Risk of Developing an
Inherited Cancer?
If, in your family there is/are:
1. Many cases of an uncommon or rare type of cancer
(like kidney cancer).
2. Members diagnosed with cancers at younger ages than
usual (like colon cancer in a 20 year old).
3. One or more members that have more than one type of
cancer (like a female relative with both breast and ovarian
4. One or more members with cancers in both of a pair
of organs simultaneously (both eyes, both kidneys,
both breasts).
5. More than one childhood cancer in siblings (like sarcoma
in both a brother and a sister).
6. A close relative, like a parent or sibling, with cancer.
7. A history of a particular cancer among relatives on the
same side of the family.
Adapted from:
Inheritable Causes of Cancer
Inherited Risk: It’s in Your Genes
We now know that most, if not all, tumors arise from several
genetic mutations that have accumulated in one cell of the body
during the patient’s lifetime. Unfortunately, in some families,
several members can inherit a genetic mutation linked to cancer
and have an increased risk for certain forms of the disease from
birth. The NCI estimates that about 5% to 10% of all new cases of
cancer in the U.S. each year, which is approximately 50,000 cases,
are associated with an inherited mutation ((48); see Table 4, p. 38).
Retinoblastoma is one of the first cancers documented to be
caused by an inherited, cancer-predisposing genetic mutation in
some individuals (49). Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the eye that
usually develops in early childhood, typically before the age of five.
Although it is a rare cancer, diagnosed in just 250 to 350 children
per year in the U.S. alone, analysis of retinoblastoma in the 1970s
and 1980s revealed several of the tenets that underpin our current
understanding of all cancers. For example, research demonstrated
for the first time that mutations in a tumor suppressor gene, in this
case the RB1 gene, could initiate tumor formation. The important
American Association for Cancer Research
role that these findings played in advancing cancer research
highlights the need to study all cancers, even those that affect very
few people.
Cancers linked with inherited mutations in the tumor suppressor
genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are much more prevalent than those
associated with RB1 mutations. They constitute about 5% to 10% of
breast cancer cases, such as Melanie A. Nix’s, and 10% to 15% of
ovarian cancer cases (50). A woman who has inherited a cancersusceptibility mutation in one or both of these genes is about five
times more likely to develop breast cancer and more than 10 times
more likely to develop ovarian cancer compared with a woman who
does not have such a mutation (51). Men who inherit these mutations
are also at increased risk for developing breast cancer as well as
pancreatic cancer and an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Currently there is no way to correct inherited cancer-susceptibility
mutations. However, the knowledge that an individual is in a highrisk category can encourage him/her to modify their behaviors to
reduce risk from other factors, such as the use of tobacco and
alcohol consumption; intensify participation in screening or early
detection programs; or under certain circumstances, consider the
options of taking a preventive medicine or having precautionary
surgery to remove organs that are at greatest risk for cancer, as
Melanie A. Nix did. At least some of these options are available to
all patients who know they have a cancer-associated mutation, but
additional research is needed to define the most comprehensive
strategies for cancer risk reduction in different patient populations.
Despite clear advances in our understanding of inherited cancer
risk, much remains to be learned. For example, although we know
that a family history of cancer is a sign that a person may have
inherited a cause of cancer (see Sidebar on How Do I Know If I
Am at Risk for Developing an Inherited Cancer?), in most cases
we do not know what the inherited genetic mutation is.
Furthermore, we need to understand the genetic underpinnings of
the inherited risk, which is one of many components contributing to
that having an affected first-degree
relative (parent, sibling or child) roughly
doubles an individual’s risk of
developing lung cancer?
Melanie A. Nix
Age 42
University Park, Md.
I have been around breast cancer for most of my life. My mother was
diagnosed with the disease when I was just eight years old. I also
remember my grandmother being diagnosed with it when I was very
young, and each of my three aunts has been affected by either breast
cancer, ovarian cancer or both.
Given my family history, I knew I was at very high risk for developing
breast cancer. After discussing this with my gynecologist in early 2008,
he suggested that we needed to monitor my health much more
aggressively and that I should begin by getting MRI screens rather than
mammograms and by being tested for the BRCA gene mutations linked
to breast and ovarian cancers.
I found out in July 2008 that I was BRCA-positive, with a mutation in my
BRCA1 gene that was most likely handed down to me from my mother.
An MRI in November of that year revealed an area of concern, and a
subsequent biopsy showed that I had stage I breast cancer. Further, it
was triple-negative breast cancer, a very aggressive form of breast
cancer that disproportionately affects African American women and
younger women.
I was just 38, a wife and a mother of two young children. For the best
chance of long-term, cancer-free survival, I decided to have a bilateral
mastectomy, so that in addition to having my left breast with the cancer
removed, I also had my right breast removed to reduce my risk for the
disease emerging again in the future. Then, after 16 rounds of
chemotherapy and breast reconstruction surgery, I had both my ovaries
removed (a prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy) to further reduce my
risks for cancer in the future.
I sometimes regret not having been tested for the BRCA gene mutations
sooner, but there were a few things that held me back. Some of it was
fear and anxiety about my future insurability, but much of it was that I
was pretty sure that if I tested positive, I would be aggressive in my
approach to preventing disease and would opt for a preventive bilateral
mastectomy and oophorectomy. In preparing to have and breast-feed
my second child, I held off getting tested.
My BRCA status is often at the forefront of my mind because I know
that I am going to have to explain it to my children, in particular my
daughter, when they get a little older. When the time comes, I will need
to educate her about her cancer risks and how to monitor her own
health. I will also have to teach her about her options for preventing the
disease—whether or not to be tested for the mutation and what to do if
she is positive.
I am very fortunate to be an almost four-year cancer survivor. Although I
have not had any treatments since those I received right after my
diagnosis, I will be under the care of an oncologist for the rest of my
life. Right now, I see him every six months. In an effort to keep my risks
for further cancer as low as possible and to contain any side effects of
my treatments, such as osteoporosis, in addition to conscientiously
going to my doctors’ appointments, I exercise regularly, am very careful
about my diet and take vitamin supplements.
As a result, I continue to thrive. I work with a childhood friend who was
diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer just before me to provide
support and comfort for breast cancer patients who are going through
treatment. I also volunteer with breast cancer advocacy and support
organizations, because it is important that we raise awareness of this
disease and the triple-negative form of it in particular. There is still so
much to learn.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Modeling Cancer Risk
For some cancers, researchers have used known risk factors
to devise mathematical models that predict the likelihood that
a person will develop these diseases. For example, the Gail
and Claus models are used to determine a woman’s risk of
breast cancer.
Risk estimates derived using the Gail model are based on a
woman’s natural hormonal and reproductive history, family
(first-degree relatives only) breast cancer history,
race/ethnicity, breast biopsy history and the
presence/absence of prior breast tissue abnormalities51.
The Claus model considers only family history, but it
incorporates maternal and paternal breast cancer history,
first- and second-degree relatives and age of affected family
members at breast cancer diagnosis. Each has its own
strengths and limitations.
the differences in cancer incidence and mortality between racial
and ethnic groups (see Sidebar on Cancer Health Disparities in
America, p. 16). Defining the root causes of all cancers with an
apparent inherited component, whether it is undiscovered genetic
mutations or complex environmental and genetic interactions, is
imperative if we are to break the cycle of disease for future
Cancer-Predisposing Medical Conditions
A number of medical conditions have been linked to an increased
risk for certain types of cancer. Among these are the two major
inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s
disease, and hereditary pancreatitis. Central to these conditions
being cancer predisposing is the persistent inflammation that they
cause. Patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have
inflammation of the lining of the colon, and they are six times more
likely to develop colorectal cancer compared with the general
population (52). The most effective strategy for reducing colorectal
cancer risk in patients with inflammatory bowel disease remains
unclear (52), and this is an area of active investigation. The options
currently available include increased screening for early detection
and precautionary surgery to remove all or part of the colon.
Research has shown that medical conditions that suppress the
normal function of the immune system increase risk for certain
types of cancer. For example, people with HIV/AIDS and patients
taking immunosuppressive drugs after solid organ transplantation
are more likely than healthy individuals to develop Hodgkin’s
lymphoma (53).
Stratifying Risk to Improve
Health Care for Everyone
Our increasing knowledge of risk factors for certain types of cancer
provides unique prospects for reducing the burden of these
intractable diseases by identifying those individuals at highest risk
prior to disease onset and intervening earlier. For example, when
this understanding is employed alongside our expanding
awareness of the molecular profile of cancer development, specific
prevention programs can be tailored to each high-risk patient’s
needs. It might be enough to assist patients in modifying their
behaviors to reduce risk from other factors, such as tobacco use, or
it might be necessary to increase their participation in screening or
early detection programs or to recommend they consider taking a
preventive medicine or having precautionary surgery to remove
those organs at greatest risk for cancer.
Currently, there are few ways to reliably assess an individual’s
cancer risk without medical intervention. The most concrete
approach is to classify as high-risk those individuals with an
extensive family history of cancer and those with a cancerpredisposing medical condition (see Sidebar on How Do I Know If I
Am at Risk for Developing an Inherited Cancer?, p. 39). Among
the former, if it is suspected that disease in affected relatives could
be caused by a known inherited cancer-susceptibility mutation,
genetic testing can more specifically stratify each family member’s
“For me, this is personal. I have lost two sisters to breast cancer, one brother to prostate cancer,
and another brother to thyroid cancer. Tens of millions of Americans and their loved ones also have
been touched by cancer. This is why I have long been an advocate of robust funding for cancer
prevention and research.”
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)
American Association for Cancer Research
through eliminating tobacco use) is urgently needed if we are to
target preventive interventions to the people who would benefit most.
Many researchers are seeking to identify biomarkers that could be
used to stratify an individual’s cancer risk—for example,
biomarkers signifying exposure to a cancer-causing agent (see Fig.
5, p 23). Ideally these biomarkers would be measurable in small
amounts of accessible material such as blood, urine or saliva.
Current research in this area aims to harness recent technical
advances and powerful analytical platforms to discover such
individual risk. In this way, relatives who carry the familial mutation
can take appropriate risk-reducing measures, while those without
the mutation can avoid unnecessary and costly medical procedures.
For the broader population, researchers have devised models to
predict the likelihood that a person will develop certain cancers, with
the goal of selecting those who may benefit from additional
screening (see Sidebar on Modeling Cancer Risk, p. 41). These
models are based on known risk factors, but are imperfect. The Gail
and Claus models for determining a woman’s risk for breast cancer
are the most used commonly used in the clinic (54, 55). Further
research to develop models that not only more accurately quantify
risk, but also estimate the benefits of modifying risk factors (e.g.,
Clearly, stratifying risk is important for reducing the morbidity and
mortality of cancer in high-risk individuals, but it also has the
benefit of decreasing the complications and cost of unnecessary
health care interventions for those at low risk for disease. Every
medical procedure, even a seemingly harmless approach for
screening for early detection of certain cancers, carries with it
some risk for an adverse effect. Eliminating the need for low-risk
individuals to be exposed to these procedures also reduces health
care costs, providing additional impetus to expand our research
efforts to develop new, accurate and reliable ways to discern an
individual’s cancer risk.
Figure 14: Small Genetic Steps for Cells Lead to a Giant Leap for Cancer. Many cancers are progressive in nature, particularly non-blood
cancers, such as those that arise in the lining of many organs. An initial genetic change can lead to a change in the tissue, for example the
formation of a small adenomatous polyp in the lining of the colon. Over time, further genetic alterations in a cell within the polyp leads to a more
advanced precancerous lesion. Given more time, additional genetic mutations are acquired, leading to increasing levels of what is called
dysplasia, or changes in cell shape. Ultimately, as the genetic changes accumulate and cause further cellular changes, the dysplastic
precancerous lesions may evolve into cancerous lesions within the tissue. As yet more mutations arise, the cancer cells gain the ability to
metastasize, which they do by entering into nearby blood and lymphatic vessels. Routine screening using the Pap test and colonoscopy aims to
detect early-stage precancerous lesions so that they can be removed before they have the chance to grow and metastasize.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Reducing Risk
There has been a
decrease in cervical cancer deaths
between 1955 and 1972, largely as a
result of the Pap test.
Screening to Spot Cancer Early
Finding a tumor early, before it has spread to other parts of the body,
makes it more likely that the cancer can be treated successfully
with fewer side effects and a better chance of survival.
Many cancers, particularly those that arise in tissues other than the
blood, are progressive in nature. They begin with a series of genetic
changes that translate into defined cellular changes that cause
normal cells to develop into precancerous lesions, known as
intraepithelial neoplasia (see Fig. 14, p. 42). As the genetic and
cellular changes accumulate, the precancerous lesions may evolve
into cancerous lesions contained within the tissue and ultimately
into advanced metastatic disease. These processes typically take
place over a period of many years, and improvements in our
understanding of these changes and our ability to identify them
have allowed us to detect some precancers and intercept them
before they become advanced disease.
Population-based screening programs, which test generally healthy
individuals for potential disease, provide opportunities to intervene
in the cancer process as early as possible. For many years now,
screening has been routinely conducted for the early detection of
cervical cancer using the Pap test, for colon cancer using several
approaches including colonoscopy, for breast cancer with
mammography, and for prostate cancer using prostate-specific
antigen (PSA) tests. Individuals at increased risk for cancers for
which there are routine population-based screening programs are
often advised to start screening at an earlier age or to be screened
more frequently than those at average risk.
To be successful, a screening program must result in a decrease in
the number of deaths from the screened cancer; all populationbased screening programs are continually evaluated to ensure they
Cancer cells from a primary tumor,
although extremely rare, can be found in
the blood of patients with cancer. A team
of researchers funded by Stand Up To
Cancer is seeking to detect and analyze
them to enable the detection of cancers.
meet this criterion. Effective screening programs must be well
organized and must assess the majority of at-risk individuals.
Screening for the early detection of cervical cancer using the Pap
test is one of the best examples, as research has shown that
reductions in cervical cancer incidence and mortality are
proportional to the fraction of the population screened (56). In the
U.S., widespread use of the Pap test contributed significantly to the
almost 70% reduction in the number of deaths from cervical
cancer between 1955 and 1972 (57) and has contributed to the
further declines since then, particularly among African American
Colonoscopy has contributed significantly to the dramatic declines
in colorectal cancer incidence seen since 1998 (58). However, only
about 59% of Americans aged 50 years and older, the group for
whom testing is currently recommended, get tested (59, 60). If the
proportion of individuals following colorectal cancer screening
guidelines increased to slightly more than 70%, researchers
estimate that 1,000 additional lives per year could be saved (60).
Clearly, innovative ways to increase the number of individuals
following colorectal cancer screening guidelines are needed. The
maximum impact is likely to be achieved with a diverse set of
strategies, including public health and education initiatives and the
development of alternative, less invasive screening strategies.
Regular screening for breast cancer with mammography is an
effective, noninvasive way to detect the disease at an early stage,
when treatment is more effective and a cure is more likely. Since
the onset of regular mammography screening, the mortality rate
from breast cancer has steadily decreased, and this has been
attributed to both early detection through screening and
improvements in treatment (3, 61). However, it is important to note
that studies to date have not shown a benefit from regular
screening mammography in women younger than the age 40. In
addition, the use of routine mammography screening among those
older than the age of 40 has become a hotly debated topic,
because there is concern that it can detect breast tumors that will
“Awareness and access to screening are half the battle when it comes to battling breast cancer.
It’s important to celebrate the advances we’ve made when it comes to detection and treatment.”
Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC-9th)
Co-chair of the House Cancer Caucus and a breast cancer survivor
American Association for Cancer Research
more lives could be
saved from colon cancer each year if
11% more of the population followed
screening recommendations.
never cause symptoms or threaten a woman’s life. That is, it can
potentially lead to overdiagnosis of the disease and subsequent
overtreatment with its associated risks.
Almost 20 years after its introduction in the U.S., the use of the PSA
test for early detection of prostate cancer is still controversial. The
most recent analyses of two ongoing large-scale studies failed to
conclusively indicate whether or not routine PSA screening is useful
(62, 63). In one study, although annual PSA screening identified
prostate cancers that would not otherwise have been detected, it
did not reduce the number of prostate cancer deaths (62). In the
other study, men undergoing a PSA screen once every four years
had a 21% reduced risk for death from prostate cancer (63).
Reconciling these data to generate guidelines for screening is
difficult, and it is currently recommended that men, starting at age
50, talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of testing so they can
decide if it is the right choice for them. Beyond the lack of clarity as
to whether PSA screening saves lives from prostate cancer,
screening may also lead to overdiagnosis and subsequent
overtreatment, and therefore can cause harm.
The issue of overdiagnosis and overtreatment is relevant not only to
mammography and PSA screening, but also to all approaches to
early detection of cancer. Research to address the problem is vital
to ensure that the public has confidence in current screening
guidelines and any future changes in these guidelines. Moreover, it
is evident that clinicians urgently need a way to distinguish among
screen-positive patients—some may require treatment, while
others can undergo surveillance and safely forego immediate
curative interventions. One recent advance is the July 2012 FDA
approval of the Prostate Health Index (phi), a blood test that can
detect prostate cancer more accurately than the PSA test (64),
thereby reducing the number of unnecessary medical procedures.
This index can also help predict which prostate cancer patients
need treatment (65). However, additional work is required if we are
to comprehensively reduce the burden of overdiagnosis and
overtreatment while ensuring that those with significant disease
are identified when curative treatment options are available.
For cancers other than cervical, colorectal, breast and prostate
cancers, there are no routine screening strategies for individuals
with an average risk for disease. Researchers have made some
advances recently for early detection of lung cancer in current and
former heavy smokers. In this population, researchers have
reported that low-dose CT screening reduces lung cancer mortality
by 20% because it identifies small tumors (66). However, this is an
early result. More work is required to identify those current and
former smokers at highest risk for developing lung cancer, because
screening all of the estimated 94 million current and former
smokers in the U.S. would be cost prohibitive.
Clearly, screening can greatly reduce cancer incidence and
mortality in many instances. However, not all cancers are currently
amenable to screening, and much research is needed to develop
biomarkers to design new screening tools for cancers that we
cannot currently detect until they reach an advanced stage, like
pancreatic, liver and ovarian cancers. New imaging technologies
also promise to provide new strategies for identifying premalignant
lesions and early disease. As with all advances, the challenge will
be to identify the populations that will benefit most and to
determine the optimal frequency of screening. Cost containment to
make approaches affordable will also be essential to success.
Table 5: FDA-Approved Medicines for Cancer Risk Reduction or
Treatment of Precancerous Conditions*
Cancer Risk Reduction
Breast cancer
Breast cancer
Cervical, vulvar, vaginal
and anal cancers and
dysplasia; genital warts
Cervical cancer and
cervical dysplasia
Generic Name
human papillomavirus
quadrivalent (types 6,
11, 16, and 18)
human papillomavirus
bivalent (types 16 and
18) vaccine
Trade Name
Treatment of Precancerous Conditions
Actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis
Bladder dysplasia
Bladder dysplasia
Esophageal dysplasia
Generic Name
Trade Name
ingenol mebutate
diclofenac sodium
5-aminolevulinic acid +
photodynamic therapy
hydroguaiaretic acid
bacillus calmet
porfimer sodium +
photodynamic therapy
*adapted from Wu X, Patterson S, Hawk E. Chemoprevention – History and general principles.
Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology. 2011;25:445-59.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Medical Interventions: Taking Action Early to Prevent
the Onset of Cancer
Our increasing knowledge of the risk factors for and molecular
drivers of certain cancers has enabled us to identify individuals
with an extremely high risk for these diseases and to develop
medical interventions to reduce these risks. Although having
precautionary surgery to remove organs at greatest risk for cancer
might seem drastic to most individuals, for women with an
inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation who are known to have a
markedly increased risk for breast cancer, it is a viable option. In
these women, surgical removal of healthy breasts (a procedure
known as bilateral prophylactic mastectomy) reduces breast cancer
risk by more than 85% (67), while surgical removal of healthy
fallopian tubes and ovaries (or prophylactic salpingooophorectomy) reduces ovarian/fallopian tube cancer risk by 80%
and breast cancer risk by 50% (68).
of cancer deaths are
related to excess weight and physical
Despite these successes, the use of medical interventions to
reduce cancer risk is not widespread. Continued research is
needed to develop better ways to identify at-risk patients, better
screening approaches, and more and better ways to intervene
earlier in the development of cancer.
Also, physicians can prescribe medications to some healthy
individuals at high risk for cancer to reduce their risk (see Table 5,
p. 44). The use of drugs for this purpose is known as
chemoprevention. Scientific understanding that the hormone
estrogen drives at least 65% of breast cancers led to the clinical
deployment of two FDA-approved drugs that block the effects of
estrogen, tamoxifen (Nolvdex) and raloxifene (Evista), as
chemopreventive medicines for women at high risk for developing
breast cancer. In such women, these drugs reduce the chance for
developing breast cancer by about 50% (69, 70), but their use is
not widespread, in part because tamoxifen increases risk for
endometrial cancer and both agents may increase risk for blood
clots and stroke. More recently, exemestane (Aromasin), which
works by blocking the production of estrogen, has been shown to
reduce the risk for invasive breast cancers by 65% in
postmenopausal women at moderately increased risk, without
significant side effects (71), providing an alternative way for some
women to reduce their breast cancer risk.
Recognition that many cancers arise from precancerous lesions
provides an opportunity for timely therapeutic intervention to
prevent the development of invasive cancer. This is a very active
area of research, and in January 2012, the FDA approved a new
drug to treat precancerous skin lesions known as actinic keratoses
(see Table 1, p. 14 and Table 6, Appendix). Actinic keratoses are
rough, scaly patches on the skin that are considered precancerous
because they can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, the
second most common type of skin cancer. The new drug, ingenol
mebutate (Picato), is a gel that patients apply once a day to the
affected areas of skin. It clears these lesions in only three
applications (72). This is a huge step forward for patients who
previously had to undergo cryosurgery (the use of extreme cold to
destroy the affected area) or who had to apply creams for several
weeks or even months.
American Association for Cancer Research
Making Research Count
for Patients
Cancer research over the past four-plus decades fueled
extraordinary medical, scientific and technical advances that gave
us the tools that we now use for the prevention, detection,
diagnosis and treatment of cancer. These advances have helped
save millions of lives in the U.S. and worldwide.
in these important areas of cancer medicine. Determining the
optimal combination of treatment approaches is an area of
intensive investigation.
This past progress has set us on our current path to a more
complete understanding of cancer biology, which is moving cancer
research in exciting new directions. Continued discovery is yielding
further insights into the complexity of cancer, which exists at every
level, from populations to individuals to specific cancers and to the
very genes that drive these cancers. This unprecedented
knowledge is beginning to transform the current standard of care,
providing new hope for patients.
The advanced technologies that researchers are using today to
sequence cancer genomes, identify altered genes and proteins, and
analyze the wealth of information from these technologies are
making it increasingly possible to link specific defects in the
molecular machinery of cells and tissues to cancer development.
As a result, we now have the ability in some cases to identify the
molecular drivers of an individual patient’s tumor and use that
information to select cancer therapies precisely targeted to the
cancer-causing molecular deficiency. These therapies are more
effective and less toxic than the treatments that have been the
mainstay of patient care for decades, meaning that they are saving
the lives of countless cancer patients as well as improving their
quality of life.
Uncovering the mysteries of cancer and translating them into
breakthrough therapies for patient benefit requires the
collaboration of researchers and physicians from various
disciplines. In the past 12 months alone (September 2011 through
the end of August 2012), the FDA approved eight new drugs for
cancer treatment (see Table 1, p. 16), bringing to fruition the hard
work of many thousands of individuals over many years. Also
during this same period, the FDA approved additional uses for three
existing drugs, increasing markedly the number of patients
benefiting from them.
In the following discussion which focuses on these recent FDA
approvals and also provides insight into other therapies that are
showing near-term promise, it is important to note that these
recently developed therapies are predominantly used in conjunction
with the traditional triad of cancer patient care—surgery,
radiotherapy and chemotherapy (see Table 7, Appendix). Although
not highlighted in this report, substantial progress has been made
A New Day for Our Current Knowledge
Despite the tremendous progress in patient care that has been
achieved through the development and use of molecularly targeted
drugs, at this time not all cancer patients are able to benefit to the
same extent. In some individuals, a drug predicted to destroy the
tumor fails to have any effect, and for others, the tumor responds
initially but then starts to grow again. Other patients may have a
tumor for which the specific underlying molecular defect has yet to
be defined. Still other patients may have defined mutations that are
not matched with a precisely targeted therapy. Leveraging our
current knowledge has proven fruitful, both in enabling cancer
researchers to address these challenges and in further advancing
quality patient care.
“Our progress in fighting cancer since the National Cancer Act of 1971 has been nothing
short of amazing.”
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3rd)
Former Chair and now Ranking Member on the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Ed, and an ovarian cancer survivor
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Figure 15: A New Drug, A New Approach to Stopping Breast Cancer. Overactive HER2 signaling drives approximately 20% of breast cancers
(A). In 1998, the FDA approved trastuzumab (Herceptin, orange therapeutic antibody in B), which blocks the blue growth factor from binding to the
HER2 receptor found on the cell’s surface; however, trastuzumab does not completely stop the HER2 signaling network (B). In 2012, the FDA
approved pertuzumab (Perjeta, purple therapeutic antibody in C), which complements trastuzumab to more fully inhibit the HER2 signaling
network (C).
A New Day for Old Targets
Variability in patient responses to new target drugs is a major
challenge in cancer treatment. While some patients’ tumors will
respond, some will not respond at all, and still others will initially
respond and stabilize or begin to grow again. To meet this
challenge, we need to understand what causes the variability and
use this information to design combination therapies or new
therapies to overcome these causes. This is an active area of
research and it is beginning to bear fruit. In many cases, diligent
analysis of the drug and its molecular target is critical, and it is
enabling the design of more efficacious drugs that target the same
molecule as the original therapies.
Two New Ways to Hit a Breast Cancer Target
An estimated 226,870 new cases of breast cancer will be
diagnosed in 2012 (3). In approximately one out of every five cases,
the cancer overexpresses HER2 protein (73). These cancers tend to
be aggressive and have a poor patient outlook. Decades of
American Association for Cancer Research
fundamental research led to the clinical development and FDA
approval of the therapeutic antibody trastuzumab (Herceptin),
which exerts its anticancer effects after attaching to HER2 on the
surface of the breast cancer cells. It revolutionized treatment for
women with HER2-positive breast cancer, prolonging survival in
those with metastatic disease by 24% (74) and reducing the risk of
recurrence after surgery in those with early-stage disease by up to
24% (75). Unfortunately, some patients with advanced HER2positive breast cancer fail to respond, and in most of those who do
respond initially, the disease ultimately progresses. A second FDAapproved HER2-targeted therapy, lapatinib (Tykerb), provides some
benefit in these situations (76, 77), but new therapies for this
subtype of breast cancer are urgently needed.
Rigorous scientific assessment of the reasons why trastuzumab
fails to eliminate all HER2-postive breast cancer cells in most
patients led to the development of pertuzumab (Perjeta), which the
FDA approved in June 2012 as part of a combination therapy for
the treatment of metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer. The FDAapproved combination includes trastuzumab and pertuzumab
Kathryn Becker
Age 46
Coconut Grove, Fla.
I am a 15-year breast cancer survivor. Although I didn’t know it at
diagnosis, because at that time no one knew about its important role in
breast cancer, my cancer is HER2-positive. As a result, during the course
of my many treatments, I’ve been able to benefit from all the research
breakthroughs that led to the development of drugs that target HER2, like
trastuzumab (Herceptin) and a new drug called T-DM1, which is only
available through clinical trials.
My journey with cancer started in 1997. I had recently moved to Florida
for my job, and I was doing the basic find-your-new-doctor thing, and I
found a gynecologist. He found a lump, and said, “You need a
mammogram.” I was completely shocked and disoriented: I was too
young to have cancer, no one in my family had cancer, and cancer wasn’t
even in my vocabulary.
I had the mammogram, which led to a biopsy, and then all of the sudden I
had to make decisions like mastectomy or double mastectomy — things
I’d never thought about. The hardest part for me was my age. I was 32,
and thinking, “You want me to do what?” I chose to have a left
mastectomy. After the surgery, I was still planning to have children, so I
wanted to make sure I would be able to nurse someday.
Because I was young and I had an aggressive cancer my oncologist said,
“If you’re facing the enemy, do you want an Uzi or a pop gun?” Of course
I chose the Uzi. So we went down the path of high-dose chemotherapy
with stem cell recovery. It pushed me into menopause, so children were
out of the question. That wasn’t part of the literature I received. A nurse
pulled me aside and said, “You know this will make you sterile.” I had no
idea. But on the other hand, I really believe that having undergone that
treatment helped hold off my cancer recurrence.
I did not have a recurrence until 2004. The cancer returned with a
vengeance in my liver, lungs, ribs and sternum. I went to Memorial SloanKettering in New York for a second opinion, but the oncologist there was
on the same page as my oncologist in Florida, so I decided to stay at
Advanced Medical Specialties in Miami for more chemotherapy. I lost my
toenails and fingernails; it was gross. Afterwards, I still had some cancer
in my bones, but the rest was gone. Since then, there have only been
short periods of time that I haven’t been on treatment. We’ll get tumors to
shrink so they are really small and then something will grow. We’ve been
going through this process for a while now.
In October 2010, I started traveling to Fort Lauderdale to take T-DM1 as
part of a clinical trial. At first, I had a really good response. The swelling and
tenderness on my sternum really started to diminish. It was the first time I
had ever felt my cancer get better. It was pretty quick with T-DM1. But in
January 2012, my scans revealed that I had a little more growth on my
sternum and some more lymph nodes involved. I’ve been off the trial for
about six months. I’m on another drug now, so we’re seeing how that goes.
While I was participating in the T-DM1 trial, I saw many women around
me go into remission. I hadn’t been around that before and it was
exciting. All these women were doing well; the ones who weren’t were
women like me, the ones with cancer in their bones. I loved seeing all
those women go into remission. The drug is completely tolerable, and the
quality of life is night and day from the “Uzi” drugs I took more than 10
years ago. These drugs are the sharpshooters. I’ve lost quite a few
friends to cancer over the years, and I wish they had been able to have
some of these drugs because then they’d probably still be around now.
Is this disease curable one day? I think so. Do I have a really aggressive
cancer? Yes, but through Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I’ve been able to
meet other metastatic breast cancer survivors, and although there aren’t
a lot of us, it’s becoming clear that there is a future for us.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Antibodies are natural proteins
made by a type of immune cell, called a
B cell. Researchers have developed
ways to generate antibodies that can be
used to treat cancer alone or by
attaching chemotherapy drugs or
radiation-emitting particles to them in
order to deliver these directly to the
cancer cells.
because together, they are thought to provide a far more
comprehensive blockade of HER2 function, and thus greater
anticancer activity than either does alone (see Fig. 15, p. 47). In
patients with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer, this dual
targeting of a single molecule (HER2) significantly prolongs the time
to disease progression by almost 50% (73).
An exciting new approach to treating women with HER2-positive
breast cancer is currently in the early stages of clinical testing. The
drug being studied, called T-DM1, is an antibody-drug conjugate,
and its development is the culmination of many years of dedicated
collaboration among researchers from many different disciplines.
Antibody-drug conjugates are a new type of targeted therapy that
uses an antibody component to deliver cytotoxic chemotherapy
drugs more precisely to just those cancer cells that express the
antibody target. This precision reduces the side effects of the
chemotherapy agent compared with systemic delivery. In the case
of T-DM1, a small amount of the chemotherapy drug DM1 is
attached to trastuzumab, which delivers the DM1 directly to HER2positive cancer cells. Early results from clinical trials of T-DM1,
suggest that the drug significantly reduces the risk of cancer
progression or death in many women who, like Kathryn Becker,
have metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer (78). Additional time
to follow the patients on these trials is needed to make a definitive
conclusion as to the efficacy of this approach.
What to Do When One of the Most Effective Molecularly
Targeted Drugs Doesn’t Work
Imatinib (Gleevec) was the first molecularly targeted chemical
developed for cancer treatment. Its discovery was the result of a
series of groundbreaking scientific findings. First, chronic
myelogenous leukemia (CML) was linked to an abnormal
chromosome in tumor cells, called the Philadelphia chromosome;
subsequently, researchers found that two genes, BCR and ABL,
were fused to create both the odd chromosome and a mutated
protein that fueled this cancer type. Because imatinib effectively
blocks the activity of the BCR-ABL fusion protein, its 2001 FDA
approval changed the lives of CML patients. Five-year survival rates
increased from just 31% to more than 90% (3, 79). Unfortunately, a
small fraction of patients fail to respond to imatinib. Other patients
initially respond, but eventually stop. In these cases, when the
disease returns, or relapses, the leukemia is said to have acquired
resistance to imatinib (see Sidebar on Drug Resistance and
Fig. 16, p. 50).
American Association for Cancer Research
Drug Resistance
Drug resistance is one of the greatest challenges we face
today in cancer treatment. Most tumors that are not
completely eliminated will, over time, become resistant to a
given therapy and continue to progress.
Resistance generally falls into two categories: acquired
resistance, which develops during the course of treatment in
response to the therapy; and innate resistance, which is
inherent at the outset of treatment.
Diversity among the cancer cells within a single tumor is what
ultimately drives insensitivity to treatment with cytotoxic and
molecularly based therapeutics alike. For example, within a
given cancer, some cells may be actively proliferating, while
others are not. Since many cytotoxic therapies destroy only
rapidly dividing cells, some cells within a cancer escape these
treatments. In addition, the unstable and error-prone genome
in a cancer may create a mutation in the drug target itself,
rendering the drug useless in a subpopulation of cells.
Redundancies within the signaling networks that drive cancer
cell proliferation also can permit cells to become resistant to
therapy. In this case, an initial therapeutic can block a
signaling pathway within a network, but given the pressure to
continue proliferating, the cell can use a “detour” around the
blockade and continue through the network.
Molecular classification enables physicians to treat cancer
patients with the most effective therapy for their tumor type,
an advance that is now improving the lives of countless
cancer patients; however, some patients, despite having the
correct molecular defect, do not initially respond to the
therapy, which is called innate or primary resistance. This
may be because of genetic mutations present in the tumor
itself, or it could be because of a genetic variation within the
patient that alters drug activity or metabolism, or a
combination of the two.
In order to develop therapies that will overcome drug
resistance, we need to continue to make inroads in
understanding the ways in which cancers develop drug
resistance, as well as the factors within the tumor and the
patient that drive innate resistance. This will only be possible
with a continued investment in the research to do so.
Figure 16: Many Avenues To Navigate Around a Drug. Signaling networks within a cell resemble a grid of streets in a city, and drugs attempt to
stop these signals like a roadblock stops traffic. Much like gridlocked traffic, cancer cells can take advantage of alternative routes by using
overlapping or parallel pathways to continue transmitting signals in spite of the drug’s blockade. This helps explain why some drugs that block
key nodes of signaling networks are initially effective at stopping cancer growth, but stop working when alternative “routes” start to be used,
leading to a form of drug resistance. Imagine the streets of downtown Washington, D.C.: if a roadblock (red X) was placed at 1st and Constitution,
traffic would be temporarily blocked from reaching the Capitol (red arrow), but eventually traffic would find alternative routes (green arrows). So it
is with targeted therapeutics. For some cancers, research has already identified the alternative routes that are used, and combinations of drugs
that block both the main and alternative pathways simultaneously are currently in clinical testing. For others, more work is required to identify the
alternative paths and the drugs that may block them.
Fundamental research determined that those patients who either
fail to respond or ultimately relapse have leukemias that harbor
mutations in imatinib’s target, the BCR-ABL fusion protein, that
prevent the drug from blocking BCR-ABL activity. Researchers have
identified ways to circumvent most of these mutations, and two
second-generation drugs, dasatinib (Sprycel) and nilotinib
(Tasigna), were developed and FDA approved. However, both fail to
block one particular mutation, and that remains a significant
clinical problem. Fortunately, recent advances have led to the
development of an investigational drug, ponatinib, which is active
against this mutation. Ponatinib is showing tremendous promise in
phase II clinical trials, where robust anti-leukemic activity has been
reported in patients with CML that is resistant or intolerant to
currently available treatments.
Refining Drug Potency and Specificity
The striking success of drugs such as imatinib is very encouraging
in that they precisely target the cancer-driving molecular
aberrations that are intrinsic to cancer cells. However, recent
clinical experience has revealed that for many cancers, in particular
those affecting large organs such the liver and kidneys, targeting
cancer cells alone is not sufficient to completely treat a patient’s
cancer. In the case of the most common type of kidney cancer in
adults, which is renal cell carcinoma, research has identified that
these cancers are particularly dependent on the growth of new
blood and lymphatic vessels to grow and thrive. Thus, they are the
perfect targets for therapeutic intervention.
Over the past decade, the FDA has approved seven drugs that work
in similar ways to impede the growth and stability of the emerging
blood and lymphatic vessel networks. These drugs target a family
of growth molecules and their receptors, called VEGF, which are
found mostly on blood and lymphatic vessel walls. These therapies
have significantly improved outcomes in patients with metastatic
renal cell carcinoma, a particularly insidious stage of the disease
that is resistant to conventional chemo- and radiotherapy, and
which has a five-year survival rate of less than 10% (80). Of the
antiangiogenesis drugs that block the VEGF receptors, their ability
to suspend new vessel growth differs, due in part to varying
Cytotoxic chemotherapy
drugs largely work by non-specifically
eliminating all rapidly dividing cells. They
can therefore cause damage to those
normal cells that are rapidly dividing.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
The University of Texas MD
Anderson Cancer Center
Female with metastatic colorectal cancer
Age 48, Indiana
Houston, Texas
• Is the only NCI-designated
comprehensive cancer center in
• Employs 18,456 people.
• Admitted 1,190,568 outpatients and
25,230 inpatients in fiscal year 2011.
I was nearly 45 years old when I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic
colorectal cancer. I have just started on the second cycle of what is
currently the only treatment option left for me, a drug called regorafenib,
which I am receiving through an expanded access program that is
available while the FDA considers whether or not to approve it. I am
trying to be positive. My doctors told me that someone has to be at the
top end of the spectrum of responses, and we are hoping that is me.
Source: MD Anderson Annual Report 2010-2011
My journey to diagnosis started with routine blood tests that showed I
was slightly anemic. I had never been anemic in my life, so my doctor
ordered a range of tests. A colonoscopy revealed the answer. It was a
huge shock. I had no symptoms—how could I possibly have advanced
Knowledge gained through research
discoveries at The University of Texas
MD Anderson Cancer Center has an
impact on the U.S. economy of:
• $20.1 billion in annual spending
• $9.8 billion in annual output
• More than 112,500 permanent jobs
Source: Figures from The Perryman Group, a Texasbased economic and financial analysis firm 2009
efficiency in VEGF blockade as well as their effects on several
related molecules. Drugs with greater potency and specificity for
the VEGF receptors are being developed; for example, the FDA
approved a new drug in this class, axitinib (Inlyta), for the treatment
of renal cell carcinoma in January 2012 (81). Furthermore, in
August 2012, the FDA approved the newest member of this
growing family, ziv-aflibercept (Zaltrap), for the treatment of
metastatic colorectal cancer.
Drugs that block the VEGF receptors, disrupting the blood and
lymphatic vessel networks that grow to support a cancer’s growth,
are not just used to combat renal cell carcinoma; they are also FDA
approved for the treatment of the most aggressive form of liver
cancer, some forms of pancreatic cancer, and some lung and
colorectal cancers. An emerging new drug in this class of therapies
is regorafenib, which potently targets the TIE2 receptor in addition
to the VEGF receptors. This agent has the potential to increase its
effectiveness as a therapy, since TIE2 is also believed to play an
important role in blood and lymphatic vessel stability and growth.
Regorafenib is currently being tested in clinical trials as a treatment
for several advanced stage cancers. Particularly promising are the
preliminary results of a large study examining its utility as a
treatment for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer (82). With a
five-year survival rate of only 12% with this disease, there is a
huge need for new treatment options (3). See the female
metastatic colorectal cancer survivor’s story.
Improving Patient Quality of Life by
Reducing Side Effects
The FDA approved bortezomib (Velcade) for the treatment of
multiple myeloma in 2003 and for the treatment of one of the
rarest but fastest growing forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
American Association for Cancer Research
After the colonoscopy everything moved very quickly, and I found myself
in surgery just 10 days later. Slight complications from the surgery meant
that I did not start my chemotherapy until five weeks later. After 11
rounds of bevacizumab (Avastin) and a combination of chemotherapy
drugs called FOLFOX, I had a CT scan and a PET scan. The results looked
good, so I stopped that treatment and went onto a maintenance
chemotherapy protocol that comprised bevacizumab and two
chemotherapy drugs, 5-FU and leucovorin. After five months, in May
2010, I came off all treatments.
My next CT scan, just a few months later, in July 2010, revealed cancer
spots in my liver, and I was treated with stereotactic radiation. Three
months later, I had my next CT scan. The results were not good. There
were more areas of cancer, and I had to go back on chemotherapy. This
time, I participated in a clinical trial that was testing the effectiveness of
the drug everolimus (Afinitor), in combination with cetuximab (Erbitux)
and irinotecan, in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. I came off it
after five months because it was not working—my cancer kept
progressing—and the side effects were truly, truly awful.
By then it was March 2011. I went back onto bevacizumab, but this time
I took it in combination with the chemotherapy drugs oxaliplatin and
capecitabine (Xeloda). My oncologist and I decided to just keep on going
with this treatment because we knew there were no others, and I was
not prepared to enroll in another clinical trial after my horrendous
experience with everolimus. The only reason I stopped taking these
drugs, in early 2012, was because my insurance company insisted that I
did. They stipulated that the only treatment they would pay for was
irinotecan, despite the fact that it had not benefited me when I took it
At this point, I sought another opinion. I went to The University of Texas
MD Anderson Cancer Center, and there they told me that yes, my only
option was to take the irinotecan. But they also said that if I did this for
three months and my cancer continued to progress, then I should be able
to get into the regorafenib expanded access program that would likely be
opening up at that time.
So that is what I did, and my cancer progressed, and in June 2012, I
started my first cycle of regorafenib. Fortunately, the side effects of
regorafenib are nowhere near as severe as those of everolimus, they are
not pleasant, but they are not unbearable. I can tell I will be able to keep
taking it for as long as it is benefiting me. My first scans after starting the
drug are in August 2012, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed because
this really is my last shot*.
Just before printing, we learned that this patient is no longer taking regorafenib, because her
disease has progressed. Although regorafenib has benefited other patients, this failure highlights the
challenge of treating metastatic disease for many, if not all cancers.
Congressman M. Robert Carr
Age 69
Washington, D.C.
My cancer showed a complete response to treatment and has been
undetectable since 2008. I am keenly aware that my status as a
cancer survivor owes much not only to my personal doctors, but also
to all those researchers and patients whose catalogued, cumulative
experience contributed to my successful treatment. I am especially
grateful to those patients whose treatment was not successful, but
whose legacy was in the lessons learned by the professionals who
advanced, no matter how small, the knowledge necessary to succeed
and to save lives like mine.
I received my diagnosis of multiple myeloma in 2007, just two weeks
before I was due to run my second Marine Corps marathon. I was
lucky; it was later determined that my disease was extensive and
accompanied by kidney problems. My doctors told me that if I had run
that marathon, my outcome might not have been as good as it has
I started treatment the day I found out that 85% of the cells in my
bone marrow biopsy were cancerous plasma cells, which meant that I
had stage III disease. Luck was with me again at this point because
the drug I was given, bortezomib (Velcade), had only been FDA
approved for my condition a few weeks earlier. I was given
bortezomib for 23 weeks, and each time I had a shot I had to take a
high dose of steroids for two days.
The only side effect I experienced from the bortezomib was
neuropathy in my feet, although that was bad enough. The steroids,
however, were incredibly hard to endure; they gave me huge ups and
downs—I would feel great the days I took them and then absolutely
awful after that. I was very glad to be done after 23 weeks, at which
point fewer than 3% of the cells in my bone marrow biopsy were
Although my response to the bortezomib and steroids was very good,
and my doctor says it saved my kidneys, I did have to undergo a stem
cell transplant to get rid of the remaining cancer cells. The high-dose
chemotherapy that preceded the transplant was agonizing, and the
whole process took almost a year. But I am thankful. I have been in
remission since the stem cell transplant, and I live a normal life. I take
lenalidomide to keep the cancer at bay and my blood is checked
every 30 to 45 days, but I just live with that. Running a marathon or a
10K is much more arduous, and something I do regularly.
My cancer experience taught me not to take health and health care
for granted. I was lucky enough to be treated by a doctor who is one
of the most knowledgeable about multiple myeloma and to have
health care that enabled me to receive state-of -the-art treatment.
But I have a nagging guilt because there are people with the same
disease as me who could be treated successfully if they could just get
access to the right treatments. I very much hope that in the future, I
will get a chance to make a difference and help open up access to
health care.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
mantle cell lymphoma, in 2006. The drug is highly effective in
patients with multiple myeloma, with its use almost doubling the
five-year survival rate. Many patients, like Congressman M.
Robert Carr, have achieved a durable complete response to the
treatment (83).
Bortezomib is a unique drug that blocks the breakdown of proteins,
leading to the disruption of multiple pathways that are necessary
for tumor cell proliferation. Its mode of action is not as precise as
that of drugs that target cancer-driving molecular defects intrinsic
to cancer cells, and as a result it has significant side effects. One
side effect that considerably diminishes the quality of life of many
patients is a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which causes
numbness, loss of sensation and pain in the hands and feet.
Two FDA decisions in 2012 should help reduce this serious adverse
side effect and will increase the number of treatment options
available to patients with multiple myeloma. The first is the July
2012 FDA approval of carfilzomib (Kyprolis) as a new treatment for
multiple myeloma. Like bortezomib, carfilzomib prevents the
breakdown of proteins, but its blocking effects are more sustained
and it can be administered on a schedule that is effective but
significantly reduces peripheral neuropathy (84). The second is the
January 2012 FDA approval of a change to the way that bortezomib
can be given to patients. Clinical trial results indicated that
administering bortezomib under the skin, rather than into the veins,
did not diminish treatment effectiveness, but dramatically reduced
suffering related to severe peripheral neuropathy (85).
A New Day for Existing Drugs
After performing arduous clinical trials that lead to FDA approval for
a drug, researchers and clinicians continue their endeavors,
seeking to maximize the number of patients who can benefit.
Determining if treatments for certain cancers might benefit other
groups of patients and if a drug’s side effects can be mitigated to
make it tolerable to more people not only improves patient care,
but it also increases the return on prior investments in cancer
research. In the first eight months of 2012, the FDA expanded the
use of three previously approved cancer treatments—pazopanib
(Votrient), everolimus (Afinitor) and, as noted above, bortezomib—
increasing their true clinical worth.
MedStar Washington
Hospital Center
Washington, DC.
• Employs approximately 6,100
• Admitted 40,192 inpatients, 2,062 of
which were cancer-related admissions
in 2011.
• Admitted 411,514 outpatients, 82,190
of which were cancer-related
admission in 2011.
American Association for Cancer Research
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, Mass.
• Is the only NCI-designated
comprehensive cancer center in
• Employs 3,763 people.
• Had more than 353,000 adult and
pediatric outpatient clinic visits and
infusions in 2011.
The FDA approved pazopanib for the treatment of metastatic renal
cell carcinoma in October 2009. It targets the VEGF receptor family,
disrupting the growth and stability of the emerging blood and
lymphatic vessel networks that support the cancer’s growth. A
recent large-scale clinical trial showed that pazopanib more than
doubles the time to disease progression in patients with certain
metastatic soft-tissue sarcomas (86), a group of cancers that it is
estimated will be newly diagnosed in more than 11,000 Americans
in 2012 (3). In light of this, in April 2012, the FDA approved the drug
as a treatment for advanced soft tissue sarcoma, providing new
hope for patients who have seen little change in their treatment
options for decades.
Everolimus targets the key molecule, mTOR, in the mTOR signaling
pathway, which senses energy levels, controls tumor cell viability
and drives cell growth. As a result of various genetic mutations, this
pathway is overactive in several types of cancer, and over the past
few years the FDA has approved everolimus for the treatment of
metastatic renal cell carcinoma, certain pancreatic cancers called
neuroendocrine tumors, and noncancerous brain tumors in patients
with an incurable inherited disease called tuberous sclerosis (see
Table 4, p. 38). Between 25,000 and 40,000 Americans have
tuberous sclerosis, which causes noncancerous tumors to grow in
the brain and many other vital organs (87). A recent clinical study
indicated that everolimus reduces the burden of noncancerous
brain tumors in patients with tuberous sclerosis and also
dramatically shrinks their noncancerous kidney tumors, data that
led to the April 2012 FDA approval of everolimus for this condition
(88). In July 2012, the FDA approved everolimus for the treatment
of women with hormone receptor–positive advanced breast cancer
(see below) after a large-scale trial showed it significantly
prolonged time to disease progression or death (89).
Increasing the number of cancer types for which a drug is approved
as a treatment is not a trivial advance. It is one that is significant
for the many patients, their families and their loved ones who have
benefitted from this progress. Numerous studies are underway to
pair other proven cancer treatments with new patient populations,
and these are expected to uncover new ways to enhance and
expand both the clinical value of our knowledge and the return on
prior investments in cancer research.
Figure 17: Where do Hormones Originate? Signals from the brain, (white arrow) stimulate the pituitary to release a substance (yellow arrow)
that in turn, causes the testes and ovaries to secrete the majority of the hormones testosterone and estrogen found in a person (blue and pink
arrows, respectively). The pituitary also stimulates the adrenal gland (green arrow) to secrete a small amount of estrogen and testosterone in both
sexes (pink and blue arrows, respectively). Some tumors, such as those originating in the breast and prostate, also secrete large amounts of the
hormones estrogen and progesterone (pink and blue arrows, respectively).
A New Day for Anti-hormone Therapy
Hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and their
derivatives influence the growth of certain subtypes of breast
cancer and most cancers of the male and female reproductive
organs (see Fig. 17). These hormones attach to specific proteins
called receptors, in a lock-and-key fashion, which stimulate cancer
growth and survival. This knowledge has provided insight into risk
factors and treatments for some of these hormone-fueled cancers.
In breast cancer, for example, understanding that estrogen drives
the approximately 70% of breast cancers that express the estrogen
receptor led to the clinical development of anti-estrogen therapies.
These drugs work in one of two ways. Some drugs, like tamoxifen,
attach to the estrogen receptors inside cancer cells, blocking
estrogen from attaching to the receptors. Other therapies, like
aromatase inhibitors, lower the level of estrogen in the body so that
the cancer cells cannot get the estrogen they need to grow. Antiestrogen therapies have been extremely successful, as indicated by
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Antoni Smith
Age 57
Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 2007, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was just 52 years old
and a father of three. It progressed to metastatic cancer in 2010. By
the end of March 2012, I had endured numerous rounds of
chemotherapy, but my cancer was not responding. I was at the point
of giving up. I agreed to try one last treatment, a brand new drug
called abiraterone (Zytiga). It has given me a new lease on life—I’m
feeling better than I have in a very long time.
Although I was told at diagnosis that my prostate cancer was
aggressive, after receiving radiation and hormone therapy in 2008, I
thought everything was going to be all right. But this was not the
case. First, I lost my health insurance and was unable to continue
with the anti-hormone therapy. Then, when I got my health insurance
back a year later, I made the worst decision of my life: I refused to
restart anti-hormone therapy because I felt great, and I did not want
to suffer the side-effects of the treatment again.
Things gradually went downhill for me, and the metastasis to my
kidney was discovered in 2010. By 2011, the cancer had spread to
my bladder and lymph nodes, and I had my first kidney stent placed.
One of my doctors suggested surgical castration, but I refused.
Instead, I decided I needed another opinion, from a doctor at a facility
dedicated to treating cancer patients. I chose Memorial SloanKettering Cancer Center in New York City, and I entered their care in
October 2011.
When I started the first of many cycles of chemotherapy, my PSA level
was 700, which is 175 times higher than the level considered normal.
The first chemotherapy combination had no real effect on my PSA
level, and my cancer continued to spread. Increasing the dose of the
chemotherapy drugs to the maximum and adding another drug to the
cocktail did little, and my health declined dramatically. I suffered
terribly with side effects from the chemotherapy drugs. I became
dehydrated and lost a tremendous amount of weight as a result of
diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite. I lost my hair. I experienced
severe neuropathy in my feet and developed lymphedema. The side
effects were so bad that I was hospitalized several times.
By March 2012, I did not have the strength to continue with the
chemotherapy. I really believed that death was near. But my doctor at
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said there was one more
option I should try, abiraterone. I was reluctant. It has been the best
thing that I have done. My hair, my strength and my appetite have all
returned. I have not been hospitalized since being on abiraterone and
my PSA level is down to 34. I still suffer from neuropathy in my feet
and lymphedema, but thanks to my doctors and abiraterone I have
my life back.
I hope that by telling my story, I can raise awareness of prostate
cancer and of the fact that there is hope for other men facing the
same situation as me.
American Association for Cancer Research
Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center
New York, N.Y.
• Is one of three NCI-designated
comprehensive cancer centers in
New York state.
• Employed 11,950 people in 2011.
• Admitted 24,486 inpatients and
accommodated 535,900 outpatient
visits in 2011.
Employee and patient data can be found in our
2011 annual report (to be published here in the next
few weeks: http://www.mskcc.org/annual-report).
the fact that in women with early-stage estrogen receptor-positive
breast cancer, tamoxifen treatment reduces the risk of disease
recurrence by almost 50% and the chance of mortality by 30%
The most exciting recent advances in understanding hormonedriven cancers have been made in the area of prostate cancer, the
most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. (3). It is estimated
that there will be more than 240,000 new cases of the disease in
2012, and that more than 28,000 American men will succumb to it.
Most prostate cancers, almost two out of every three, are
diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, with African American men
bearing a disproportionate burden of the disease (4). The
knowledge that prostate cancer can be powered by hormones
called androgens, like testosterone, provided the rationale for
developing anti-hormone therapies called androgen- deprivation
therapies. These therapies for prostate cancer work in similar ways
to the anti-estrogen therapies used to treat breast cancer: They
lower androgen levels or stop them from attaching to androgen
Androgen-deprivation therapies are most commonly used to treat
advanced prostate cancer. Most individuals with this diagnosis
respond very well to these treatments, and their cancers shrink or
grow more slowly. Unfortunately, in most cases, the prostate
cancers eventually stop responding to androgen-deprivation
therapies and a more aggressive disease called castration-resistant
prostate cancer arises, which has a very poor prognosis and
urgently requires new treatment options.
While the most frequently used androgen-deprivation therapies
reduce androgen levels, they do not eliminate these hormones
completely. Basic research led to a better understanding of how the
body manufactures and responds to androgens, which revealed a
way to more completely block androgen production. This, in turn,
led to the development of a groundbreaking new anti-androgen
therapy, abiraterone (Zytiga), which the FDA approved in April 2011
for the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.
In a large-scale clinical trial, abiraterone significantly prolonged
survival (91) and provided new hope to patients like Antoni Smith,
p. 55. Ongoing clinical studies are examining whether abiraterone
might provide a more effective treatment than the current standard
of care for prostate cancer patients with less advanced disease.
The results of one of these studies indicate that the presurgical use
of abiraterone in patients with localized high-risk disease shows
promise (92).
On August 31, 2012, the FDA approved a new androgen-deprivation
therapy, enzalutamide (Xtandi, formerly called MDV3100).
Enzalutamide attaches to androgen receptors and blocks their
attachment to androgens. It is more effective than current drugs
and has fewer side effects (93). The results of a recent large-scale
clinical trial examining enzalutamide as a treatment for metastatic
castration-resistant prostate cancer indicate that it significantly
prolongs survival (94). These exciting findings are good news for
patients who desperately need new treatment choices. Continuing
research is assessing the potential of enzalutamide as a treatment
for earlier stage prostate cancer.
Clinical research to further optimize the treatment schedule must
be undertaken soon if patients are to gain the maximum benefit
from recent progress in anti-hormone therapy. For example, the
ideal sequence in which to administer these new drugs, when
during the course of the disease to give them and the best
combination of these and other treatments has yet to be
determined. Moreover, despite the tremendous advances, some
metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer patients, like S.
Ward “Trip” Casscells, M.D., never respond to either abiraterone
or to enzalutamide, and most individuals who do respond only do
so temporarily. Additional new therapies are required for these
patients, and further research efforts are essential if we are to meet
this medical need.
“I believe it is incumbent upon each of us, especially those of us elected to serve,
to do our part to rid this world of cancer.”
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Chair, House Childhood Cancer Caucus
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
S. Ward “Trip” Casscells, M.D.
Age 60
Washington, D.C.
“Gee, there are a lot of metastases here. What is your primary
cancer?” These were the words that I heard back in 2001 from the
radiologist looking at my MRI scans. I was shocked. I had never had a
diagnosis of cancer and did not even suspect it. Since that day my
prayers have been answered, and although none of the numerous
treatments I have received—some through clinical trials—have cured
my disease, they have gotten me to today. I am in my fifth remission.
A PSA test the day after I had received my MRI results revealed a PSA
level of 94, which is more than 20 times higher than the level
considered normal. A subsequent prostate biopsy showed that I had a
highly aggressive prostate cancer that had already spread through my
body. My doctors told me that the textbooks would say that I had just
three years left, but they felt that if I was willing to endure a tough
series of radiation, chemotherapy and anti-hormone therapies, they
could get me eight years, maybe more. I was 49 years old, married
with three young children, and of course I was going to fight it in any
way I could.
I began treatment the day that I met my oncologist. He prescribed
ketoconazole and promised me I would feel better the next day. I was
very surprised because ketoconazole is usually used as an anti-fungal
cream, but it turns out that it also rapidly reduces testosterone levels.
I was amazed to find that sure enough it made me feel better
What followed was a treatment program of radiation and various
chemotherapies. It was very hard on my body, but I responded very
well. After six months, my PSA was undetectable, and I was in
remission. I am very grateful that I had a doctor who believed that an
aggressive course of treatment could benefit me and extend my life; I
knew several people at the time who were not lucky enough to be
offered these therapies, and they sadly passed away.
Over the next couple of years I had several recurrences, and each
time I would have surgery to remove or chemotherapy to destroy the
returning tumors. But after two years we ran out of treatment options,
and I began participating in a series of clinical trials. Some drugs, like
abiraterone (Zytiga), slowed or halted my disease for a time, while
others, like MDV3100 (enzalutamide), seemed not to benefit me at all.
Some people might consider my participation in these trials as
unsuccessful because my disease kept progressing, but some of the
therapies helped keep my disease in check for a few months. It is
now more than 11 years since my diagnosis, and I am still working. I
have seen my children grow up to become teenagers. I also believe
that anything—any approved therapy, any drug under development
and any dietary modification that has been suggested to be
beneficial—that gives you a chance to live, even a little longer, buys
time for a more successful treatment to be developed.
I hope that by sharing my cancer experience I can teach others the
value of participating in clinical trials. I might have gained only a little
benefit from the experimental drugs I received through the trials, but
my involvement will ultimately help thousands of future patients. It is
imperative that we—patients, doctors, researchers and those that
make funding decisions—work together to make it easier to conduct
clinical trials so that no stone is left unturned in the quest to improve
the lives of cancer patients everywhere.
To find out more about Dr. Casscells’ experience with aggressive
metastatic prostate cancer go to:
American Association for Cancer Research
A New Day for Targeted Therapy
Our dramatically increasing knowledge of cancer biology at the
molecular level is beginning to transform the standard of care
from a one-size-fits-all approach to personalized cancer medicine,
also called molecularly based medicine, precision medicine or
tailored therapy. With this type of medicine, the molecular makeup
of the patient and of the tumor dictate the best therapeutic
strategy. The overall goal is to increase survival and quality of life
for most cancer survivors.
The majority of the drugs recently approved by the FDA for cancer
treatment are designed to precisely block the malfunctions that
drive cancer growth. Many have been discussed above, as they
specifically target molecules for which earlier drugs have provided
tremendous patient benefit, but two—vismodegib (Erivedge) and
ruxolitinib (Jakafi)—are unique because they oppose the function
of cancer-driving molecules not previously targeted for therapy.
The development of vismodegib and ruxolitinib were the
result of many research successes. These advances built upon a
powerful knowledge base about cancer and represent a clear-cut
example of the significant returns that are made on investments in
such research.
Vismodegib is the first drug approved for the treatment of advanced
basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly
diagnosed cancer in the U.S., estimated to affect about 2 million
Americans annually (95). It is almost always curable with surgery;
however, for the small fraction of patients in whom the cancer
progresses to an advanced stage, there was no effective therapy
until the FDA approved vismodegib in January 2012. Vismodegib is
also the first drug that blocks a signaling network called the
Hedgehog pathway, which fundamental research has determined is
overactive in almost all basal cell carcinomas because of several
different genetic mutations. With clinical trials showing that it
dramatically shrinks tumors in most patients (96), like Donna
Johnson, vismodegib is a welcome new treatment option for a
condition for which there was a clear unmet need. Continuing
clinical studies are assessing whether vismodegib might benefit
patients with other types of cancers that have defects in the
Hedgehog pathway, including pancreatic and lung cancers,
amplifying the clinical value of the drug.
Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center
at Scottsdale Healthcare
Scottsdale, Ariz.
Scottsdale Healthcare:
• Is the largest employer in Scottsdale,
Ariz., with approximately 6,700
employees, 1,800 physicians and
1,300 volunteers.
• Has treated a total of 564,108 patients.
• Had an employee payroll of $339
million in fiscal year 2011.
• Generated $1.6 billion total economic
output (direct and indirect) in fiscal
year 2011.
• Is the co-lead site for Stand Up to
Cancer pancreatic cancer research
Dream Team.
A similarly powerful example of drug development in the era of
personalized cancer medicine began less than 10 years ago, when
researchers discovered genetic mutations leading to excessive
activity of a certain signaling network in most patients with
myelofibrosis, a type of chronic leukemia for which there was no
specific treatment. This discovery propelled researchers across
disciplines to collaborate on the development of the first ever drug
to precisely target this altered signaling network, called the JAK2
signaling network. The result of these endeavors was ruxolitinib
(Jakafi), which the FDA approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis
in November 2011, after several clinical studies showed that it
significantly reduced symptoms, dramatically improving patient
quality of life (97). Ongoing clinical studies are examining whether
ruxolitinib might provide a viable treatment option for patients with
other types of cancers with JAK2 signaling defects, including
pancreatic cancer and certain subtypes of breast cancer.
The extraordinary progress that has been made in recent years
toward developing drugs that precisely target the molecular defects
driving cancers has already made a real difference in the lives of a
growing number of cancer patients, the more than 13 million
cancer survivors in the U.S., and their families and loved ones.
Despite these advances, diseases like pancreatic and liver cancers
still represent major killers, and they have no effective molecularly
targeted therapies. In the case of pancreatic cancer, fewer than one
“I believe medical research should be pursued with all possible haste to cure the diseases and
maladies affecting Americans. I have said many times that the NIH is the crown jewel of the
federal government – perhaps the only jewel of the federal government.”
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)
Former Chair and Ranking member of the Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor- HHS-Ed, and a cancer survivor
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Donna Johnson
Age 61
Colorado Springs, Colo.
I am a two-plus year survivor of metastatic basal cell carcinoma. The
drug vismodegib (Erivedge) saved my life and renewed my hope that I
can continue on this path to a full and vibrant existence.
I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in 2006 and did not think
too much about it after the tumor had been surgically removed. My
doctors assured me that it was a type of cancer that almost never
spreads to other parts of the body, and we all thought that everything
would be okay.
How wrong we were. In 2010, after experiencing tremendous pain in
my shoulder and neck, my doctor discovered that my basal cell
carcinoma had recurred internally. It was not visible on my skin but
had invaded my shoulder and neck tissues. I had surgery, during
which surgeons scooped out most of my shoulder and neck and
removed a lot of my collarbone. They used muscle from my breast to
hold my shoulder in place.
The surgery gave me some relief, but the pain returned in early 2011.
An MRI scan in April revealed that the cancer had come back with a
vengeance. I saw several doctors in Colorado who told me there was
little they could do. One suggested cutting the nerves to my shoulder
to relieve the pain, while another told me amputation was the only
option. I was in unbearable pain—high doses of oxycodone did
nothing for me. I was desperate.
My life changed after my stepfather in Arizona told me about a clinical
trial for metastatic basal cell carcinoma that he had read about in a
local paper. I immediately contacted the center that was running the
trial and got enrolled. I began receiving treatment, the test drug
vismodegib, at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale
Healthcare, in Arizona, at the end of August 2011. By the end of
September I had stopped taking all my pain medications. It was
unbelievable how quickly my life had turned around.
Not only did vismodegib rapidly eliminate my pain, it also made me
feel better all around. One of my affected lymph nodes was three
inches in diameter when I started the clinical trial; it had shrunk by
50% within a month. Today, having been taking the drug for almost a
year, I can say that my cancer has stopped progressing and that all
my tumors are receding. I attribute this almost exclusively to
vismodegib, although I did have a six week course of radiation to help
things along in March 2012. I live with side effects of the drug—hair
loss and muscle cramp—but these are minor compared with pain
that I experienced before.
I continue to take vismodegib once a day and will have to do so for as
long as it keeps my cancer at bay. But that has become much easier
since the FDA approved the drug in January 2012 and I no longer
have to travel to Arizona to receive it. My doctors have told me that it
is likely that my cancer will be smarter than the drug that I take and
that it will eventually return. But I remain hopeful. There are so many
amazing minds out there working on the problem that I believe it is
only a matter of time before yet more doors are opened to new
treatment options.
So what wisdom can I share from my cancer experience? Be your
own advocate. Educate yourself about clinical trials because your
doctor doesn’t know everything and new treatment options are
always being developed. And most importantly keep fighting. I am
living proof that it is possible to regain your life.
American Association for Cancer Research
Jill Ward
Age 54
Henrico, Va.
I will become a five-year survivor of pancreatic adenocarcinoma in
October. While I am excited to reach this milestone, I realize that I will
be one of very few who do. Pancreatic cancer is the only major
cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits. This is why I
advocate for pancreatic cancer research through the Pancreatic
Cancer Action Network.
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2007, just a few
days shy of my 50th birthday. My father had died from the same
disease in 2004. I had begun losing weight and experiencing
diarrhea. An urgent care physician and my regular doctor both told
me that it was unlikely that I had pancreatic cancer because I was
young, I did not smoke, I rarely drank alcohol and the disease was not
hereditary. My doctor ordered a blood test to assess my liver function,
and when the results came back abnormally high, I was referred to a
gastroenterologist. After several liver conditions where ruled out, a
special procedure revealed that there may be a tumor in my
Because it is very hard to see the pancreas in scans, the next step was
a complicated surgery called the Whipple procedure. The results from
the biopsy showed that I had stage II pancreatic cancer. I knew from
my research that my chances of long-term survival were not good, so
my husband and I decided that we were going to prioritize making
memories and having fun with our children.
After the surgery, I had six weeks of radiation combined with a
continuous infusion of chemotherapy. I found it difficult to find a
knowledgeable oncologist because pancreatic cancer is a relatively
rare cancer and few patients survive to be treated long term. When I
discovered that my first oncologist did not know the standard
treatment for pancreatic cancer, I changed doctors. In 2008, my
second oncologist insisted that new and growing nodules in my lungs
were not metastatic tumors and would not authorize a biopsy.
At this point, I went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. There
I met one of the top researchers in the pancreatic cancer field. He
immediately arranged for me to have a lung biopsy. The results were
discouraging: The cancer had metastasized to my lungs. I knew that
my odds of surviving had shortened dramatically. So, in keeping with
our vow to enjoy life, my husband and I gathered our three children,
packed up our van and drove to Key West for a vacation.
Over the past four years, I have been on several different
chemotherapy regimens, each decided upon by both me and my
oncologist. I am now on my sixth regimen. As this may be the last
option available to me, I am utilizing the Pancreatic Cancer Action
Network and my oncologists to search for a clinical trial in which
to participate.
Throughout my experience with cancer, my philosophy has been to
enjoy life and to trust that everything will work out as it should. One
oncologist has repeatedly suggested that I stop chemotherapy. I tell
him that yes, chemotherapy does have rough side effects, but that I’m
still having fun and am determined to be aggressive in pursuing
treatments until that is no longer true.
When I was diagnosed in 2007, I was determined to see all of my
children graduate from high school. Now, thanks to my current topnotch medical team and treatments, I am making plans to see my
youngest children graduate from college.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
The Sidney Kimmel
Comprehensive Cancer Center
at Johns Hopkins
Baltimore, Md.
• Is the only NCI-designated
comprehensive cancer center in
• Employs approximately 1,200 faculty
and staff.
• Johns Hopkins experts provide
services to approximately 7,000 newly
diagnosed cancer patients each year.
• Johns Hopkins and affiliated
institutions in Maryland have a total
economic impact of nearly $10 billion
in fiscal year 2010.
in 16 patients are living five years after diagnosis (3). Jill Ward,
who is about to celebrate her fifth year of survivorship, is a rarity.
Much more work needs to be done if the outlook for those
diagnosed with this disease is to improve. For some time,
researchers have known the identity of a predominant cancerdriving molecular defect, but they have been unable to successfully
develop drugs that precisely target it. They are actively looking for
ways around this obstacle. One approach that basic research
suggests might have promise is combining two molecularly
targeted drugs that are specific for different signaling network
components (98), and this idea is currently in the early stages of
being tested in clinical studies.
Combinations of molecularly targeted drugs are also being
investigated as potential new approaches to treating cancers other
than pancreatic cancer. For example, a drug that blocks the
mutated B-RAF protein, which is the molecular defect found to
drive more than 50% of melanoma cases, has revolutionized the
treatment of this deadly disease (99); however, these cancers
eventually acquire resistance to the drug and they progress (see
Fig. 16, p. 50 and Sidebar on Drug Resistance, p. 49). Melanoma
research has identified several molecular pathways that bypass the
inhibition of mutated B-RAF, and recently initiated clinical studies
are assessing whether adding a second drug that precisely targets
one of these resistance signaling networks will further prolong
survival in patients who have experienced progression. The results
are eagerly awaited.
In 2011, the Nobel Prize in Physiology
or Medicine was awarded for research
discoveries that furthered the
understanding of the immune system
and influenced immunotherapy for
treating cancer.
American Association for Cancer Research
A New Day for Immunotherapy
Over the past four-plus decades, cancer researchers have
accumulated a tremendous understanding of the complexity of
cancer. It is now evident that while the genetic alterations in cancer
cells have a profound effect on the development of cancer, cancer
cells can also modify their surroundings, often called the tumor
microenvironment, enhancing the growth and spread of the cancer.
A key component of the tumor microenvironment is the immune
system. Research has determined that in some cases, the immune
system completely eliminates a cancer before it becomes clinically
apparent. This fact is central to the idea that it might be possible to
develop therapies that train a patient’s immune system to destroy a
cancer. Putting this into clinical practice, however, has proven
extremely challenging. Recent scientific advances have revealed
one of the reasons for this phenomenon, i.e., that tumors have
developed many sophisticated ways to block their own destruction
by the immune system. Progress in our understanding of the
approaches that tumors use to escape elimination is finally
converging with advances in our basic understanding of the
immune system to yield multiple new strategies that have the
potential to revolutionize cancer treatment.
Cancer treatment that alters the immune system is called
immunotherapy. Not all immunotherapies operate in the same way,
however, and the ongoing discovery of the many intricacies of the
immune system is continuing to open new pathways to the
development of novel treatment strategies. Among the
immunotherapy approaches currently saving patient lives are some
that seek to boost the natural cancer-fighting ability of the immune
system by taking its brakes off, some that enhance the killing power
of the patient’s own immune cells and others that flag cancer cells
for destruction by the immune system. The first approach—using
therapies that boost the immune system by taking its brakes off—is
now leading the field of immunotherapy, producing remarkable and
durable responses in cancers that are not amenable to standard
treatments. However, other approaches are starting to gain traction
as well after many challenging years of development.
Targeting the Immune System to Release Its Brakes
It is well established that immune cells called T cells are naturally
capable of destroying cancer cells and that this ability can be
suppressed by the tumor. One explanation for this was provided by
the discovery that T cells in the tissues surrounding a tumor
express high levels of molecules that tell T cells to slow down and
to stop acting aggressively (see Fig. 18, p. 62). This finding led
researchers to seek ways to counteract these molecules, which are
often called immune checkpoint proteins.
The most well-understood immune checkpoint protein is called
CTLA-4, and a therapeutic antibody, ipilimumab (Yervoy), which
targets CTLA-4, was approved by the FDA in March 2011 for the
Figure 18: When the Immune System’s Brakes are Applied, Cancers Go. Often when a tumor forms (A), cells of the immune system, called T
cells (multicolored spheres), will attack the tumor (B). When they are successful, the tumor will be eliminated (C). In many cases, however, T cells
are unsuccessful. One reason, among many, is that T cells in the tissues surrounding a tumor often express high levels of molecules that tell T
cells to stop attacking the tumor thus, the immune response is blunted (D), leading to continued tumor growth and ultimately metastasis.
Counteracting these “braking” molecules, which are often called immune checkpoint proteins, is proving effective for the treatment of melanoma
and showing promise for a number of other types of cancer (see Targeting the Immune System to Release Its Brakes, p. 61).
treatment of metastatic melanoma. Ipilimumab releases the
brakes on T cells and significantly prolongs survival (100). Some
patients, like Andrew Messinger (who was featured in the AACR
Cancer Progress Report 2011), are still gaining benefit from it more
than three years after starting therapy (101). Ongoing clinical
studies are examining whether ipilimumab might be effective
against other cancers. Early results in patients with advanced lung
cancer are encouraging, but need verification in larger numbers of
patients (102).
The development of ipilimumab highlights the power of continued
investment in research: CTLA-4 was first identified in 1987, but it
took almost 25 years of scientific endeavor before it became an
FDA-approved therapeutic target. In addition, the tremendous
success of this novel therapeutic antibody has inspired the ongoing
development of therapies directed toward other immune
checkpoint proteins, including one called programmed death-1, or
PD1 (see Sidebar on Immune Checkpoint Therapeutics, p. 63).
The effects of a therapeutic antibody that targets PD1, as well as
one that targets the protein to which PD1 attaches, called PDL1,
are currently being assessed in clinical trials. The early results are
very promising (103, 104) and indicate that ipilimumab has blazed
the way for a family of similar effective therapies.
Targeting the Immune System to Boost Its Killing Power
Another recent development in immunotherapy for cancer
treatment is using strategies to enhance the ability of a patient’s
own immune cells to eliminate cancer cells. This can be done in
several ways, including giving a patient a vaccine to program their
own immune system to recognize and destroy their cancer or by
growing the patient’s immune cells in the laboratory and
reprogramming them to recognize and destroy their cancer. The
latter are treatments collectively called adoptive immunotherapies.
Sipuluecel-T (Provenge) is the only FDA-approved therapeutic
cancer vaccine. It is used to treat metastatic castration-resistant
prostate cancer, after it was shown to prolong patient survival
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Immune Checkpoint
Ipilimumab, which targets an immune checkpoint protein
called CTLA-4, significantly prolongs survival in patients with
metastatic melanoma. This success led to the development of
therapies that target another immune checkpoint protein,
called programmed death-1, or PD1, as well as those that
target the protein to which PD1 attaches, PDL1. These have
been tested in early stage trials with some success.
A recent small-scale trial of 296 patients showed that an
antibody to PD1 on the surface of immune cells, called T cells,
was able to produce complete or partial elimination of tumors
in 18% of non-small cell lung cancer patients, 28% of
melanoma patients, and 27% of renal cell cancer patients.
Perhaps most importantly, the reduction in tumors lasted for
at least a year in nearly 65% of responding patients (103).
Similarly, a phase I trial of 207 patients treated with an
antibody to PDL1 produced complete or partial elimination of
tumors in 17% of patients with melanoma, 11% of renal cell
cancer patients, and 10% of non–small cell lung cancer.
Further, in patients followed for more than one year, at least
50% had reductions in tumors lasting at least one year (104).
(105). It is a cell-based immunotherapy, wherein each treatment is
customized for the patient and helps direct their immune system to
destroy their cancer cells. While only an early success, it provides
hope that other effective cancer treatment vaccines can be
developed. As such, this is an intensively studied area of cancer
research. In the U.S. alone, more than 300 clinical trials testing
cancer vaccines are actively recruiting patients.
Adoptive immunotherapies are complex medical procedures that
are built upon our accumulating knowledge of the biology of the
immune system, in particular, T cells. The first step is to harvest a
defined population of T cells from the patient. T cells that target the
patient’s cancer are then selected from the harvested population or
generated by genetic engineering, grown in very large numbers and
then returned to the patient’s body, where they fight the cancer.
There are no FDA-approved adoptive immunotherapies, but at the
NCI, one procedure using T cells harvested from a patient’s own
surgically removed tumors has been used to treat metastatic
melanoma for more than 20 years (106). During this period, the
treatment protocol has been refined many times, as scientific and
technological advances have facilitated improvements, and about
20% of patients, including Roselyn Meyer (who was featured in the
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011), now achieve long-term
remission (107). Despite these successes, the NCI adoptive
American Association for Cancer Research
immunotherapy treatment is not yet considered standard of care; it
remains an area of active research and is only available to patients
enrolled in clinical trials.
The effectiveness of numerous other adoptive immunotherapies is
currently being assessed in various clinical trials for several types
of cancer. Very early clinical studies of an adoptive immunotherapy
for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia recently showed
that the strategy has tremendous promise (see Sidebar on
Adoptive Immunotherapy for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia)
(108), but more patients need to be treated to confirm this.
Additional new adoptive immunotherapies with enhanced ability to
yield patient benefit are likely to emerge in the near future as our
understanding of T cells and how they combat cancer increases.
Directing the Immune System to Cancer Cells
Therapeutic antibodies have been saving the lives of cancer
patients since 1997, when the FDA approved rituximab (Rituxan) for
the treatment of certain forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. More
than a dozen therapeutic antibodies have been approved by the
FDA for use against several cancers (see Table 6, Appendix) and
many more are in clinical trials.
Adoptive Immunotherapy
for Chronic Lymphocytic
A recent report indicates that adoptive immunotherapy holds
promise as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia
(134). In this study, immune cells, called T cells, were
harvested from three patients and genetically modified in the
laboratory so that they would not only attach to a protein
expressed by the leukemia cells, called CD19, but also be
triggered to attack the cancer cells when they did so. The
number of modified T cells was expanded in the laboratory
before they were returned to the patients. These cells were
still detectable and functioning as expected in the patients six
months later. Moreover, the patients were still in remission at
the time the report was published, which was 10 months after
their treatment.
Brooke Mulford
Age 7
Salisbury, Md.
A message from Amy Mulford, Brooke’s mother.
My daughter Brooke was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer, stage
IV high-risk neuroblastoma, on January 5, 2009, when she was just four
years old. Since that awful day she has endured all kinds of grueling
cancer therapies, but we are fortunate that she was able to receive a
combination immunotherapy treatment that included a drug called
Ch14.18. It gave her a chance that children before her did not get.
It all started on Christmas Eve 2008, when Brooke started limping and
complaining of pain in her leg. Her pediatrician diagnosed a sinus infection
and infections in both her ears, and sent us to the local hospital for blood
work and X-rays. Hospital doctors said that she had toxic synovitis as a
result of the sinus and ear infections and that all she needed was
antibiotics. A week later, I knew that was not the case when, after a threehour car journey to visit family in New Jersey, she was unable to
straighten her legs, in unbearable pain and running a fever. We went to
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and it was there that she was
We were very lucky to have been at CHOP. Neuroblastoma is rare; fewer
than 700 American children are diagnosed with the disease each year, but
a significant number of these children are treated at CHOP. Doctors
determined that Brooke’s cancer had started in her right adrenal gland
and had spread through pretty much every bone in her body and
approximately 80% of her bone marrow. I had seen the cancer light up
throughout her body on her MIBG scan, and I thought there was no hope
that she could survive. But, as a result of their experience with the
disease, the doctors at CHOP were able to reassure us that there were
treatments and that survival was a possibility.
Brooke’s treatment began a week after her diagnosis. After six rounds of
chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor on her adrenal gland, her
MIBG scan showed that she had responded very well to the
chemotherapy, but the cancer was not completely gone. However, after
two stem cell transplants, using stem cells that they harvested after the
second round of chemotherapy, her MIBG scan showed no evidence of
Right before the second transplant we found out that interim results of an
ongoing clinical trial had shown that a combination immunotherapy that
included the therapeutic antibody Ch14.18 increased cancer-free survival
dramatically, and that Brooke was eligible to join the trial and receive this
groundbreaking treatment. So, in November 2009, after the 12 rounds of
radiation therapy that had followed her second transplant, she started on
Ch14.18. She was lucky. While the treatments were painful and she had
issues with her blood pressure, among other things, she did not
experience the excruciating pain that other children do and she was able
to complete the full six-month course of the combination immunotherapy.
Brooke completed all her treatments in April 2010, and there is currently
no evidence of her disease. She now has scans every six months, and we
hope that they continue to be clear.
I am so thankful that Brooke had this chance of survival, and I have no
regrets about putting her through such a punishing course of treatments.
However, it was devastating to watch her go through it and she has to
endure a lot of side effects from the treatments—she has problems with
her vision and her thyroid, issues with her teeth, permanent hair loss,
trouble with coordination, and she will be infertile. Much more research
needs to be done so that other children do not have to endure what
Brooke did to be given a chance at life.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
The Children’s Hospital of
Philadelphia, Pa.
• Admitted 28,000 inpatients and had
more than 1.1 million outpatient visits
in fiscal year 2011. • The Cancer Center comprises 43 fulltime pediatric oncologists, 54
physicians and scientists in
complementary disciplines, 22
oncology nurse practitioners, 150
Oncology nurses, 6 social workers and
11 child life specialists.
A therapeutic antibody is a protein that attaches to a defined
molecule on the surface of a cell. These agents can exert
anticancer effects in several different ways. For example, they can
block cancer-driving signaling networks initiated by the specific
molecule to which they attach, and they can work by attaching to
cancer cells expressing their target, flagging them for destruction
by the immune system. Therapeutic antibodies that flag cells for
the immune system are a form of molecularly targeted
immunotherapy, and they include an experimental medicine,
called Ch14.18, that is showing promise as a treatment for
high-risk neuroblastoma.
Immunotherapy with Ch14.18, in combination with two factors that
also boost the killing power of the immune system, has been
shown in clinical trials to increase dramatically—by 20 percentage
points—the chance that a child with high-risk neuroblastoma will
be cancer free two years later (109). Although this treatment
strategy is not FDA approved, it is at the forefront of care for a
group of patients who have a tremendous need for new treatment
options; fewer than one in every two children diagnosed with highrisk neuroblastoma live five years (110).
Despite the tremendous success of the Ch14.18 combination
immunotherapy, which is enabling some children, like Brooke
Mulford, to live disease free, the treatment is associated with
significant toxicities. They can be so severe that some children
cannot complete the treatment course, while those who do, suffer
lasting negative side effects. Ongoing basic and clinical research is
seeking ways to mitigate these severe side effects as well as to
identify those children most likely to benefit from treatment or
those least likely to respond, so that the latter can be spared from
futile and potentially noxious therapies.
A New Day for Patient Stratification
The rapid pace of scientific and technological innovation over the
past few decades has made it possible to link specific genetic
mutations to distinct behaviors of individual cancers. As a result,
we now have the ability to understand that two patients with what
is described clinically as a single disease, say lung cancer, may
actually have two completely different cancers at the molecular
level. Thus, these patients may have two very distinct courses of
disease over time, and will therefore require entirely different
molecularly targeted drugs (see Fig. 19, p. 67).
Our arsenal of precisely targeted cancer drugs is expanding each
year. However, the effective therapeutic use of these drugs often
requires a test, called a companion diagnostic, that can accurately
match patients with the most appropriate therapies. Patients
positively identified by the test can rapidly receive a treatment to
which they are very likely to respond. Those patients identified as
very unlikely to respond can be spared any adverse side effects of
the therapy and immediately start an alternative treatment, saving
them precious time in their race to find an effective therapy.
Moreover, definitive stratification of patient populations can also
provide substantial health care savings by avoiding the deployment
of ineffective courses of cancer treatments and the treatment costs
associated with their adverse effects.
Many molecularly targeted cancer drugs have been FDA approved
without a companion diagnostic. In August 2011, however, the FDA
approved a drug/test pair that is now benefiting a defined group of
lung cancer patients. The drug, crizotinib (Xalkori), blocks the
signaling molecule ALK. It was developed after fundamental
research established that genetic aberrations that lead to altered
ALK expression and activity drive some lung cancers. Crizotinib
dramatically improves the survival of patients with ALK gene
defects, like Monica Barlow, p. 66 (111). However, these
individuals make up fewer than 7% of all patients diagnosed with
the most common form of lung cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer.
Without the companion diagnostic, this small population of patients
would not be identified, making crizotinib clinically useless because
the patient and financial costs would far outweigh the benefits.
The success of crizotinib and the importance of its companion
diagnostic emphasize the value of having a way to identify those
patients with a high likelihood of responding to a particular drug,
and many molecularly targeted drugs for cancer treatment are now
being developed side-by-side with a companion diagnostic.
Additional clinical tests to divide patients with a given cancer into
therapy groups based on the molecular characteristics of their
individual cancers are urgently needed because not all patients
with a given genetic defect will benefit from a drug targeting that
alteration. For example, while genetic alterations that result in
cancers driven by a specific cell surface protein called EGFR are
found in 10% of non-small-cell lung cancers (112) and in almost
American Association for Cancer Research
Monica Barlow
Age 35
Ellicott City, Md.
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in September 2009. I was
blown away by the diagnosis: I was just 32, I had never been a
smoker, I had no family history of cancer, and I had always
maintained a healthy lifestyle. I feel very fortunate, however, that my
doctors were able to find a specific mutation in my cancer that meant
I would likely benefit from the drug crizotinib (Xalkori). I’ve been
taking crizotinib since Thanksgiving 2010, and my cancer is under
control. I feel great and have a good quality of life.
I first experienced symptoms during the summer of 2009. I had a
cough that I could not shake, despite several courses of antibiotics. I
was short of breath when running, which I was doing a lot of because
I was training for a half marathon. Eventually, my husband persuaded
me to get it checked out. I went to a walk-in clinic at the University of
Maryland Medical Center. The doctor I saw there told me I should get
a CT scan. I had that done soon after. It showed a nodule in the left
lobe of my lung.
A bronchoscopy followed, which showed the nodule was cancer, and
then a PET scan, which showed the cancer had spread to some of my
lymph nodes and my liver. Surgery was not an option, so my doctors
started me on the drug erlotinib (Tarceva), which works against a
protein called EGFR. They did this because many lung cancers in
patients who are young, otherwise healthy and have never smoked
have EGFR mutations. It turned out that I did not have EGFR
mutations, and erlotinib did not work for me.
At about this time, I got a second opinion and transferred my care to
Johns Hopkins. I received great care at the University of Maryland, but
I knew that with my condition I would probably need access to clinical
trials and more of them were available at Johns Hopkins.
Since the erlotinib was not working, I was switched to a
chemotherapy regimen. I received six cycles of carboplatin,
pemetrexed (Alimta) and bevacizumab (Avastin). My cancer
responded well; the nodule in my lung shrank and those in my liver
were kept under control, so I came off this treatment and just took
In the meantime, my doctors discovered that my cancer had the ALK
mutation, and they were debating whether or not I should enroll in a
clinical trial testing crizotinib, which targets ALK. Since I was still
responding well to the Avastin, I stayed on that until October 2010,
when the tumors in my liver started growing. It was at this point that I
switched to the crizotinb clinical trial, and I’ve been taking the drug
ever since.
Although crizotinib has worked really well on the tumor in my lung
and on my affected lymph nodes, the tumors in my liver have been
problematic. I had several procedures on my liver to try and get rid of
the tumors before having surgery, in May 2012, to remove the 40% of
my liver that has been affected over the course of my disease. My
only scan so far since the surgery has shown that my liver is cancer
free, and right now my life is almost the same as it was before my
I know that I probably would not be alive right now without crizotinib,
and I am a huge advocate of research. I just hope that it advances
faster than my cancer.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Figure 19: Clinically Identical, Molecularly
Different. Any patient with a tumor in the lung
is said to have lung cancer, which is typically
classified by histology as either an
adenocarcinoma, shown here, or a squamous
cell carcinoma. However, research has
revealed that lung cancer actually comes in
myriad forms based on the genetic alteration
underpinning the growth of the cancer—ALK,
and PIK3CA for example. While the majority of
lung cancers for which a growth-driving
genetic change has been identified have a
single gene affected, some may have more
than one mutated gene. Lung cancers in each
group respond very differently to matched
molecularly targeted drugs. For example, those
with mutations causing excess activity of EGFR
are more likely to respond to drugs that inhibit
EGFR signaling, like erlotinib (Tarceva), while
those with genetic changes affecting the ALK
gene are most likely to respond to the ALK
inhibitor, crizotinib; see Monica Barlow’s
story, p. 66. However, we do not yet have a
molecularly targeted drug for each of the
genes known to drive lung cancer. Moreover,
for just under half of all lung cancer patients,
no responsible genetic change has been
identified. These facts underscore the urgent
need for further research. Adapted from (149).
50% of glioblastomas (113) (the most common and most
aggressive brain tumors in adults), drugs that precisely target EGFR
provide benefit only to the non-small-cell lung patients (112, 113).
Many researchers are seeking to understand why this is and to
establish ways to better predict whether or not a patient with an
EGFR genetic alteration will respond to EGFR-targeted drugs. Early
findings suggest that more specifically characterizing the type of
genetic mutation that is responsible for the cancer might provide
one way to more precisely forecast the drug response (112, 113).
Variability in initial responsiveness to a particular molecularly
targeted therapy occurs between two types of cancer with
apparently identical molecular underpinnings and also between two
patients with the same cancer type and the same cancer-driving
molecule. Therefore, it is now clear that tests that look for the
presence or absence of a single molecular defect are insufficient to
definitively predict a patient’s response to a drug. In some
instances, this occurs because of other malfunctions in the
molecular machinery of the cancer cells themselves. For example,
People who smoke 1–2 packs of
cigarettes a day are about 22 times
more likely to die of lung cancer than
American Association for Cancer Research
clinical studies found that certain drugs that target EGFR can
prolong the survival of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer,
but only if the cancer cells express the normal form of the protein
KRAS (114). Unfortunately, about four out of every 10 colorectal
cancers have a mutated form of KRAS. So, since July 2009, the
FDA has required the use of a KRAS test, one of which was just
approved by the FDA in July 2012, prior to giving a patient an
EGFR-targeted drug for the treatment of metastatic colorectal
cancer. Thus, the use of two tests to characterize the molecular
subtype of a patient’s individual cancer can help avoid unnecessary
exposure to the side effects of potentially ineffective treatments.
For most cancers it is unlikely that two tests alone will be sufficient
to predict a patient’s response to a molecularly targeted drug
because it is highly unlikely that a second indicator of response will
be present in as large a fraction of the patient population as
mutated KRAS is in metastatic colorectal cancer patients.
Identifying panels of response predictors, or biomarker signatures
(see Sidebar on Pharmacogenomics, p. 68), through the use of
advanced genome sequencing technologies, is an area of intense
research investigation, as these panels hold the promise of
dramatically increasing the precision of cancer medicine.
While not based on wholesale genomic analysis, there are currently
two multi-gene test panels used by clinicians to help them tailor
their approach to treating women with certain forms of early-stage
Lori Redmer
Age 44
Westport, Conn.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of being diagnosed with stage III
breast cancer, let alone the fact that it was triple-negative breast
cancer, a form of the disease that we fight today with almost the
same tools that we used in the 1970s.
My journey with cancer began right before the holidays in 2009. One
morning I woke up with pain in one of my breasts. At first I wasn’t
concerned, because “cancer doesn’t hurt,” but I went to see my
doctor to be sure. After tests, I was told that I had what looked like a
large cancer in my left breast, and that I needed to see a surgeon
immediately. It was like running into a wall at a thousand miles an
The news got worse, much worse, before it started to get better. Six
days later I had a lumpectomy. Waking up and getting the news that it
was definitely cancer was another blow. Then the results of the
pathology showed that my cancer was triple negative. The oncologist
who gave me the news said, “I had hoped for better for you. You got
the bad player.” Those are words you never want to hear from an
oncologist. Another surgery revealed I also had five affected lymph
I looked fine. I felt fine. It was just so surreal that this lurking threat
could really compromise everything for me. I had to wait two weeks
for the results of the scans and tests that would tell me if I had
metastases. They were the darkest days of my life. I knew that if the
results were bad, my deterioration would likely be rapid and my 14month-old youngest child probably would not even remember me.
The tide turned when I learned that I had no metastases. At that point
I just got down to business. I knew that I could deal with the physical
side of things but that I would have to equip myself to face the mental
side—the fear of recurrence and the uncertainty about the future. I
leaned heavily on my faith, but I also learned to meditate and started
running. I ran my first marathon a little less than a year after my
I was just 42 when I was diagnosed, which is fairly young, but typical
for triple-negative breast cancer. I got a lot of guidance from the Triple
Negative Breast Cancer Foundation just after diagnosis. I was also
lucky to connect with a group of eight other young women with breast
cancer for support. But I am unique within the group. Most were
ER/PR-positive, a couple were HER2-positive and some were triplepositive. I was the only triple-negative. My terror was different—a
higher risk of recurrence and fewer tools in the fight.
Sometimes people think breast cancer is not as bad as it used to be.
That might be true for the majority of breast cancers, for which there
are targeted therapies. But breast cancer is not one disease, it is
many diseases, and triple-negative breast cancer affects a huge
swath of women in the prime of their lives. For us, there are no
targeted therapies available. Hopefully, the name “triple-negative
breast cancer” will become obsolete in a few years because we will
discover the next receptor. And then we will find a way to take this
breast cancer down. Right now I am working toward that goal as the
Executive Director of the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
Turns out I wanted to beat it AND join it!
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Each person’s body handles drugs differently. These
differences are a result of subtle variations in the genome of
each individual. The use of advanced genome sequencing
technologies to study the influence of genetic variation on
patients’ responses to drugs is an area of research called
pharmacogenomics. The goal is to develop genetic signatures
that can be used to predict drug response and thereby
optimize drug therapy in order to ensure maximum efficacy
with minimal adverse effects.
breast cancer. The tests, a 21-gene test called Oncotype DX and a
70-gene test called MammaPrint, estimate the likelihood of cancer
recurrence at a distant site. Clinicians can use this information as
they decide whether anti-hormone treatment alone is likely to be
sufficient or whether a chemotherapeutic drug should also be used.
Although clinicians already use both tests, they are undergoing
further testing in clinical trials to help refine and expand their utility.
It is envisaged that near-term progress in genomic medicine should
yield additional clinically applicable gene signatures to guide
therapeutic decision-making and tailoring of a patient’s
treatment plan.
A New Day for Genomic Medicine
The explosion of genetic information and our ever-increasing
understanding of how to apply it are providing patients with some
forms of cancer less toxic and more effective treatment options,
thereby realizing the promise of personalized medicine.
Many major advances are highlighted in this report, but gaps in our
knowledge remain. For example, there are many forms of cancer,
including liver and pancreatic cancers, for which we have
insufficient genetic and/or technical knowledge to design effective
molecularly targeted therapies. Even for those cancers for which
there is a therapy that precisely targets an underlying cancerdriving molecular defect, not all patients’ cancers harbor the
matching molecular malfunction, so not all patients will benefit
Norwalk Hospital
Norwalk, Conn.
• Employs 1,800 people.
• 14,872 patient discharges and
240,361 outpatient visits.
• Diagnoses approximately 700 new
cancers per year, 200 of them being
breast cancer.
• Provided net community benefits of
$27,481,152 between October 1, 2010
and September 30, 2011.
American Association for Cancer Research
from the drug. Breast cancer is a clear case in point. Women whose
breast cancers have a genetic alteration that leads to
overexpression of HER2 benefit from HER2-targeted therapies such
as trastuzumab and pertuzumab, as well as women whose breast
cancers express the estrogen and progesterone hormone
receptors, benefit from anti-hormone therapies. The 10% to 15% of
women, like Lori Redmer, whose breast cancers lack the
expression of HER2, the estrogen receptor and progesterone
receptor are said to have triple-negative breast cancer, and for
them there is no molecularly targeted therapy currently available.
Recent innovations have propelled rapid technological advances
that are making it possible to efficiently read every known
component of the DNA from an individual’s cancer. Capitalizing on
these advances is the goal of large-scale genomic enterprises such
as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the International Cancer
Genome Consortium (ICGC). These and other similar initiatives aim
to identify all of the genomic changes in many types of cancer, by
comparing the DNA in a patient’s normal tissue with the tumor
DNA, to discover the relevant genetic alterations that drive a given
cancer. This information can then be used to improve our ability to
diagnose, treat and prevent this devastating disease. In addition, it
promises to provide new avenues of precision treatments for
patients that currently have none. Moreover, near-term expansion
of the use of DNA sequencing will help uncover the mutations
specific to metastases, which are likely distinct from those in the
original tumors from which the metastases arise. Such analyses
have great potential to reveal new approaches to treating this
deadly stage of the disease where our current efforts fall short.
To date, large-scale genomic analyses have been completed for
just a few types of cancer, with research into many others
underway. The clear message that is emerging from these studies
is that while the genetic changes being uncovered vary widely,
taken together they affect only a handful of signaling networks.
Further, the same networks, albeit at different junctures, are
affected in different cancers (see Fig. 20, p. 70). This is changing
the way researchers view cancers. They see them more as genetic
diseases, defined not as much by where they originate—in the
breast, brain, lung, liver, etc.—but by the genetic changes that are
their Achilles’ heels (see Fig. 19, p. 67). At this juncture the major
challenge is to determine how to best use both our current
therapies and the newly developed drugs in combination to
Figure 20: Genomic Medicine: Finding
the Trees in the Forrest. Whole genome
sequencing of three different patients
(blue, red and purple) reveals many
individual genetic alterations in each
patient. It would be impossible to
administer targeted therapies to treat each
of the defects; however, when the patients’
genomes are compared, three potential
therapeutic targets—and thus treatment
effectively target the altered signaling networks identified by
genomic analyses. Further, the goal is to make this strategy part of
standard of care for the treatment and prevention of cancer.
Colorectal cancer is one of the cancers for which wholesale
genomic analyses have been completed (115). Researchers
examined all of the genes in pairs of normal and cancerous tissue
of more than 200 patients with colorectal cancer. They found that
most of the genetic alterations detected in a significant portion of
the cancers affected just five signaling networks. Of note, one
signaling network, called the WNT signaling pathway, was altered
in nearly all of the cancers (93%), suggesting that drugs that block
this pathway might benefit many patients with colorectal cancer. In
addition, 5% of the cancers had extra copies of the HER2 gene,
indicating that trastuzumab and pertuzumab might be effective
therapies for individuals with these cancers since they successfully
treat breast and stomach cancers that harbor additional HER2
genes. The data from this study highlight the potential that largescale genomic technologies have for identifying new drug targets
for individual cancer types, but much more work is needed if we
are to deliver on this promise.
Currently, the greatest use of large-scale genomic analyses
remains in the research setting, as highlighted by the work of
Joyce O’Shaughnessy, M.D., where it can guide the development
of new cancer drugs, direct the repurposing of established
therapies to treat novel genetic aberrations and inform clinical
research by assigning the most appropriate patients to the best
clinical trials. To date, wholesale genomic analysis has been
successfully used to guide the choice of therapy for a few patients
in the research setting, suggesting the day when it becomes part of
standard practice is close at hand. Clearly, these advances are an
early step toward a future where most cancer treatment and
prevention strategies are based on both a person’s genetic makeup
and the genetic makeup of their specific cancer.
If this is to become a reality, the cost of deciphering a person’s
genetic code and that of their particular cancer must drop even
further than it has in the past decade The cost is estimated to have
Baylor Charles A. Sammons
Cancer Center at Dallas
Dallas, Texas
• Employs 250 people.
• Treats more than 8,000 unique
patients each year.
• Accommodates more than 80,000
outpatient visits each year.
• Has a clinical research program that
offers more than 100 clinical trials at
any one time, with close to 800
patients participating annually.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Joyce O’Shaughnessy, M.D.
Medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer
Baylor-Sammons Cancer Center, Texas Oncology, U.S. Oncology, Dallas, Texas
Breast cancer is, in a sense, a very hopeful disease—we have
had a lot of success in treating it. But for some types of breast cancer, like
metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, there remain very few effective
treatment options, and we need to find ways to defeat this cancer.
One approach that I have been involved in is to use whole-genome
sequencing to decipher every component of the DNA from the cancer cells of
several women with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. This allows us to
identify the entirety of each woman’s cancer-associated mutations, which we
hope can help us point them toward a specific treatment or treatments that
otherwise would not have been considered for them. The sequencing and
interpretive bioinformatics for this project have been done in collaboration with
the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix.
The sequencing data that we have generated is helping us match patients
with clinical trials that are testing a drug or drug combination targeting the
pathway or pathways that are disrupted in their cancers. However, in most
cases, the technique does not have the power to allow us to influence
standard of care. Just because two patients have a particular mutation and
benefit from a therapy targeting the resultant disrupted signaling pathway
does not mean that all patients with triple-negative breast cancer will have the
same mutation(s) and benefit from the same or similar treatments. However,
these patients can allow us to generate hypotheses, which we can go on to
test in a subsequent clinical trial or trials, and this has been one of the biggest
things to come out of our whole-genome sequencing project.
One of the best examples of how sequencing the genome of metastatic triplenegative breast cancers has generated a hypothesis that we would never have
thought of otherwise involves two women whose disease had progressed on
all the standard treatment options. These two women were participating in a
clinical trial testing a new agent called pegylated-SN38, which is a modified
form of irinotecan, a drug used to treat colorectal cancer. Both patients
responded well to this drug, and our sequencing data indicated that they both
had extra copies of a known cancer-driving gene, called KRAS, or a gene that
can activate K-Ras. This gave us the idea that KRAS amplification might
predict a good response to pegylated-SN38. We are sequencing the cancers of
all the approximately 160 patients who received pegylated-SN38 to see if
responders had this genetic abnormality while non-responders did not. If this
proves to be true, we would still need a large-scale prospective study before
changes in standard of care could be contemplated, but this finding, in a
relatively small population, has the potential to help many future triplenegative breast cancer patients.
One promising example of how data from whole-genome sequencing could
potentially influence the course of a patient’s care, in addition to informing
clinical trials, comes from a woman whose cancer was too large to remove
surgically. Whole-genome sequencing of her cancer revealed that it had extra
copies of a cancer-driving gene called BRAF, as well as defects in one of the
genes that limits signaling through a pathway known as the PI3K pathway.
These data led the patient to enroll in a clinical trial testing a specific
combination of drugs: One that blocks the signaling pathway involving B-RAF
and one that puts the brakes on the PI3K pathway. Her response to the
combination was dramatic. In just two months, her tumor went from larger
than the size of a grapefruit to flat. Unfortunately, she experienced
complications unrelated to the treatment and had to come off the trial, but the
result holds great promise and has led to several other clinical trials testing
combinations of these drug types for other women like this patient.
Our experience highlights that whole-genome sequencing can help us guide
patients to promising clinical trials, and that it can lead to new hypotheses.
However, to test the many hypotheses that come out of studies like ours, we
need to develop new approaches to performing clinical trials. In particular, we
need to be able to test different drug combinations and to assess the utility of
drugs approved by the FDA for one type of cancer against other cancers. It is
reasonable to consider giving a patient with a metastatic cancer harboring a
defined molecular defect a drug that targets that same defect but is only
approved to treat a different cancer type. We just need to convince all
stakeholders, in particular the regulators and insurers, that this is the case.
American Association for Cancer Research
fallen about 100-fold since 2002, but it remains several thousand
dollars per test for a robust data set (116), which is likely too high
for routine clinical use. Additionally, new storage infrastructure,
bioinformatics systems and telecommunications networks will be
required to manage the massive amounts of information generated
by the large-scale analyses. Further, the collection and
interpretation of this information to inform cancer care will only be
possible if we are able to support the cost of the required
infrastructure, educate the current and future workforce to
understand the meaning of the data generated, assemble
multidisciplinary teams of researchers and physicians, and involve
the patients themselves, their caregivers, and the community.
Translational Genomics
Research Institute (TGen)
Phoenix, Ariz.
• Is a non-profit organization focused on
developing earlier diagnostics and
smarter treatments.
• Employs approximately 300 people.
• Collaborates with Scottsdale
Healthcare in clinical trials, analyzing
between 400 and 600 patient samples
per month.
• Provided Arizona with a total annual
economic impact of $137.7 million in
*Source: http://www.tgen.org/news/
“History demonstrates that with a strong commitment to medical research, we can change the
statistics not only for cancer patients but for many other patients as well.”
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
On the Horizon
It is clear that although the altered genomes of cancer cells can
have a profound effect on cancer development and spread, factors
at all levels—from molecules to cells to humans—are involved. It
is critical that we understand all of these influences, assimilate this
knowledge and develop new ways to apply this wisdom if we are to
develop comprehensive approaches to conquering cancer going
At the cellular level, it will be necessary to integrate advanced
genomic information with knowledge generated through the
analysis of changes in the way the cancer cell’s DNA is modified
and packaged; this is a ripe area of research called epigenetics.
The function of regions of the genome that do not encode proteins,
but rather generate non-coding RNAs that fine tune the expression
of proteins, will also be important to our further understanding of
the biology of cancer. This comprehension must, in turn, be
combined with information gleaned from studying cancer at a
body-wide level through a systems biology approach that
integrates our genomic and epigenomic knowledge with an
understanding of the importance of metabolism (at a cellular and
body-wide level) along with new knowledge of the sum of the
genomes of all the microorganisms that live naturally in our bodies,
collectively called the “microbiome.”
While a more comprehensive systemic understanding of cancer is
critical to future near-term success, a deeper understanding of the
neurological control of risky behaviors is essential to help prevent
those cancers that could potentially be avoided through behavioral
modification. Although progress is beginning to be made, it will
take a concerted effort from all in the cancer research community
to deliver on the promise of these and other forthcoming
breakthroughs. American Association for Cancer Research
Research at the Cellular Level:
The striking diversity of cell types in our body is a result of selective
use of distinct parts of the genome in various kinds of cells.
Information directing which parts of the DNA should be accessible
in different cells of the body is conveyed by special chemical tags
on the DNA called methyl groups. How the DNA is packaged with
proteins into chromosomes is noted by other special chemical
marks. The science of epigenetics examines how these DNA marks
and packaging arise, how they affect cellular function, and how
they are changed over time during normal development and in
disease states such as cancer.
Most cancer cells exhibit profound abnormalities in the patterns of
epigenetic marks across the genome, the sum of which is called
the epigenome. In many cases, these defects work in conjunction
with genetic mutations to promote the cancerous behaviors of
cells. Efforts are currently underway to map these changes in all
major types of cancer. We are finding that cancer epigenomes can
be used to define new subtypes of cancer and can serve as
indicators of patient outcome or predictors of therapeutic response.
Early studies indicate that we will be able to develop sensitive
assays for abnormal epigenetic marks that can be used for early
detection of cancer and for assistance in monitoring drug response.
One of the exciting aspects of this research is that epigenetic
abnormalities are reversible. As a result, scientists are exploring
whether novel therapies that work by reversing epigenetic defects
can be used to treat cancer. This concept has led to an exciting
new avenue of attack on cancer, evidenced by some patients who
were previously nonresponsive to traditional chemotherapy and
who are now showing dramatic responses to the four FDAapproved epigenetic drugs. With cancer epigenomic profiles rapidly
being assembled and drugs being developed for an ever-increasing
number of epigenetic marks, it seems clear that the relatively new
field of cancer epigenetics and epigenomics is destined to have a
profoundly positive effect on patients in the near future and for
years to come.
Metabolomics: From Molecules to
Cells to Humans
Metabolomics is the simultaneous study of hundreds to thousands
of small molecules in a biological system of interest, such as the
blood, urine or a tissue sample. Metabolomics provides an
integrated view of how messages from the genome, epigenome
and environment influence the biochemistry of a particular system
at one point in time. As such, we can simultaneously measure
entire biochemical pathways, such as all of the molecules that
comprise the system for energy generation in a cell (and the flux
through that pathway); interactive pathways, such as the pathways
involved in cell growth; and conceptually linked systems, such as
antioxidants and oxidative damage products. Therefore,
metabolomics complements other large-scale approaches, such as
genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, for
analyzing a cell and an individual’s status at any moment in time.
Because tumor cell physiology can be different from the physiology
of normal cells, it is widely anticipated that metabolomics can be
used to improve our understanding of the causes of cancer,
improve early diagnosis and facilitate cancer drug development.
For example, investigators are examining the utility of
metabolomics in identifying indicators, or biomarkers, of increased
cancer risk and in establishing biomarkers that can help predict a
patient’s disease course or treatment response. In addition,
metabolomics can be used to determine new potential drug targets
and to help understand how a drug works or causes its side
effects. This area of research is a rapidly growing field that shows
tremendous promise for improving our understanding of cancer as
well as its prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment while
simultaneously lowering the costs of both patient care and
drug development.
Whole Body Influences: The Microbiome
It is becoming increasingly clear that the many millions of
microorganisms that live naturally inside or on our bodies, in areas
such as the skin and the gut, have effects that resonate throughout
the body. Most of the time, these microorganisms are our partners
in health, contributing to a strong immune system and the digestion
of dietary components to produce essential nutrients, among many
other things. However, growing evidence indicates that, under
certain conditions, some of these microorganisms may, in fact,
worsen our health or increase our risk of certain diseases, including
These are early days in this field, however, and researchers are still
trying to fully establish the nature of these microorganisms and
their associated effects. One systematic approach to clarify the
ambiguity involves cataloging all of the genomes of all of the
microorganisms that live in or on healthy humans and those with
certain diseases. The sum of all of the genomes of all these
microorganisms is called “the microbiome,” and it is hoped that by
understanding how it changes over time as we can now do for
whole genomes, it might be possible to gain new insight into risk
factors for many different human diseases, including cancer. Armed
with this knowledge, it would be possible to develop new
approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and
treatment. While the translation of this vision into useful clinical
tools will take time, it is important that we continue providing the
resources necessary for the large-scale enterprise of defining the
human microbiome, given its apparent importance in human health
and disease.
Integrating Everything: Systems Biology
Systems biology is focused on the identification of key networks,
pathways within these networks and interactions among networks
that cells use to function normally. Likewise, systems biology seeks
to define how these same networks are altered in cancer to
support its initiation and development.
By allowing us to understand as a whole the complex systems that
are created by cancer genomes, epigenomes, microbiomes and
metabolomes, systems biology is helping to identify the unique
growth and survival dependencies in cancer cells. It is also
enabling us to predict the reserve pathways that cancers may use
when initially challenged by an effective therapy. All this
information is pivotal to identifying new targets for cancer
medicines and novel combinations of therapies that can hit both
the cancer’s initial point of vulnerability and the pathways that
tumor cells may use to develop drug resistance.
Unfortunately, some of the dependencies being revealed by
systems biology point to drug targets that are unfamiliar to the
traditional drug discovery process. Some people even refer to such
targets as “undruggable.” However, this view is beginning to melt
away, as advances in the field of chemical biology are revealing
new solutions; thus, it is clear that systems biology, in combination
with other emerging areas of research, like chemical biology, can
produce new approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis
and treatment in the not-too-distant future.
Improving Knowledge Application:
Nanotechnology refers to the manufacturing of objects with
dimensions one million times smaller than a millimeter (the
smallest width of a human hair is 0.017 millimeters). Nanomedicine
is the application of nanotechnology to the research and practice of
medicine. Nanodrugs typically comprise a pharmaceutical agent
encapsulated within a nanoparticle, with surface modifications that
allow for reduced capture by the body’s defenses. Nanodrugs are
often characterized by increased circulatory life and enhanced
concentration at the site of a targeted cancer cell to increase
effectiveness and/or reduce toxicities. There are now more than a
dozen nanodrugs being used for the treatment of cancer, including
the breast cancer drug paclitaxel (Abraxane), and it is clear that this
approach to drug delivery will become increasingly common in the
future. In fact, in August of 2012, the FDA approved the latest
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Actions you can take to reduce your cancer risk.
cancer nanodrug, vincristine sulfate liposomes (Marqibo), for the
treatment of a rare, rapidly progressing form of leukemia. Nanotechnology is applied not only for cancer treatment, but also
for cancer detection and diagnosis. Several nanotechnology based
laboratory platforms are emerging; they offer opportunities for
novel and improved methods for the early detection of cancer from
biological fluids, the identification of novel biomarkers and the
development of tests to rapidly determine the effectiveness of
therapeutic regimens in individual patients. In addition,
nanotechnology can be used to improve the quality of life of cancer
patients. For example, there are now nanotechnology based
implants that can release cancer treatments in an optimized timerelease fashion to maximize the therapeutic effects of a drug, while
reducing side effects and without confining patients to the hospital.
Nanotechnology holds the promise of providing a complete
spectrum of tools to improve our approaches to cancer prevention,
detection, diagnosis and treatment as well as to enhance quality
of life. Reducing Cancer Risk Through
Behavioral Modification
It is clear that approximately 50% of cancers could be prevented by
behavioral changes such as quitting smoking, increasing
exercising, adopting a more healthful diet and following
recommended screening guidelines. Individuals are often aware of
the negative consequences of their behaviors, but find it extremely
difficult to change them. Research in affective and cognitive
neuroscience is beginning to show that this is not the consequence
of moral weakness. Neurobiological changes induced by behavioral
addictions, such as cigarette smoking and compulsive overeating,
can bias our decision-making processes and prevent us from
adopting healthier lifestyles. For example, brain-imaging studies
have demonstrated that nicotine, like other substances of abuse,
hijacks brain circuits underlying emotional and cognitive processes.
In fact, recent studies suggest that, for some individuals, cigarette
smoking might reduce their ability to enjoy other pleasurable
activities, making it more difficult for them to quit.
As our understanding of the neurobiological processes underlying
specific behaviors increases, it might be possible, for example, to
develop new personalized smoking cessation interventions that will
minimize the risk of relapse and will allow smokers to achieve their
goal of a smoke-free life. By discovering biomarkers that will refine
diagnoses, and by creating interventions that will help individuals
adopt and maintain healthy behaviors, continued and increased
neuroscience research can significantly contribute to reducing
cancer risk, incidence and mortality.
American Association for Cancer Research
Evan Lindberg
June 3, 2003 – Oct. 22, 2010
Germantown, Md.
A message from Wendy and Gavin Lindberg, Evan’s parents.
“Evan has a very rare, very aggressive pediatric cancer called
neuroblastoma. There is no guarantee of success with any course of
treatment. We will do the best we can, but you should prepare for a
very long and difficult journey.”
Those were the words of the pediatric oncologist who diagnosed our
only child Evan with stage IV neuroblastoma in 2006. Evan was three
years old. The phrase “long and difficult journey” does not even begin
to describe what Evan endured over the course of the next four years.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that
primarily strikes young children before the age of 5. Approximately
700 cases a year are diagnosed in the U.S. Evan’s disease
classification was the worst of the worst—stage IV, with amplification
of the N-myc gene. Fewer than 40% of children with this specific
diagnosis survive for longer than five years.
With the shock of diagnosis still overwhelming, we set out to find the
treatment plan that would give Evan the best chance. We quickly
learned that opinions varied widely on this subject, particularly among
the experts. With no definitive cure, we were left to make the hard
choices. We were constantly searching for the magic bullet that would
put an end to our nightmare. Of course, there were no magic bullets,
particularly after Evan relapsed less than a year into treatment.
Phase I and Phase II clinical trials became our standard of care as we
tried to beat back Evan’s cancer while maintaining some quality of
life. “Home” became one of three places: Children’s National Medical
Center in Washington, D.C., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
in New York and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. All totaled, Evan
relapsed seven times, five of which were in the brain. Each time, he
amazed us and his doctors with his resolve to keep going.
No child should ever have to endure what our son endured: seven
surgeries, over 150 toxic chemotherapy treatments, 25 excruciatingly
painful courses of immunotherapy, months of intense radiation
therapy and an endless stream of CTs, MRIs, bone scans, blood
draws, shots and other grueling procedures, all resulting in over 100
nights in the hospital. Pain, nausea and discomfort were constant
companions. Toughness and resolve were Evan’s response.
One treatment in particular stands out: 3F8, an immunotherapy that
he received at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “Controlled
torture” is one way to describe this antibody treatment that left Evan
screaming in pain for 30 minutes, until his “rescue” narcotics kickedin and he passed out. The rest of the day was a mixture of lingering
pain and lethargy until we returned the next morning to do it all again.
Evan’s story is important because it reminds us of the urgency that is
needed in the fight against pediatric cancer. While five-year survival
rates for children with cancer (age 0 to 14 years) approach 80%,
there are certain pediatric cancers, such as neuroblastoma, where the
survival rates are very poor. Therefore, we call on Congress to provide
the resources necessary to the National Cancer Institute to remove
cancer as the leading cause of death from disease among children.
Although we lost Evan to neuroblastoma in October of 2010,
neuroblastoma did not define him. Neuroblastoma never stood a
chance with Evan. He survives in the hearts of everyone he met. It is
in Evan’s memory that we have dedicated ourselves to finding better
treatments and a cure for this devastating disease. To learn more,
please visit Evan’s Victory Against Neuroblastoma Foundation, at
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
What Is Required for Continued
Progress Against Cancer?
Unquestionably, we stand at a defining moment in our Nation’s
ability to conquer cancer. The explosion of new knowledge and the
exciting technological advances, along with our ever-increasing
understanding of how to apply them, are providing innovative ways
to reduce the global burden of cancer. Novel strategies for making
further strides in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and
treatment are now on the horizon. Despite these opportunities,
there are many challenges that must be overcome if we are to
make a quantum leap forward in our mission to prevent and cure
all cancers.
First and foremost, we must continue to pursue a comprehensive
understanding of the biology of cancer at all stages—the root
causes of its initiation, growth and metastasis—and at all scales,
from molecules to cells to humans. We need the complete picture
of what is happening within cancer cells at the level of genetics
and epigenetics, as well as an understanding of the contributions of
other cells in the tumor and its microenvironment. Beyond studying
these in isolation, an integrated assessment—generated by the
approach known as systems biology—of the tumor and the
patient’s response to the tumor is essential to fully understand and
contextualize the cancer’s causes, prognosis, vulnerabilities and
responses to treatments.
With this comprehensive knowledge in hand, we can build better
tools for, and be smarter in, our approaches to preventing,
detecting, diagnosing and treating cancer. This vision will require a
great deal of innovation, effort and collaboration from all those who
care about saving lives from cancer and it will require adequate
funding from the federal government and other sources to meet the
challenges ahead. We must continue to push forward together, or
we risk losing more people like seven-year-old Evan Lindberg, to
this dreadful disease.
It is through research that we advance our understanding of the
biological factors involved in cancer. But how we conduct research
matters, and increased efforts in strategic areas are necessary to
achieve a more efficient cancer research enterprise. Gaining a
comprehensive picture of cancer will require new tools, new
analytics, new ways of thinking and new ways of working together.
These areas, which are described below, span the continuum from
improvements in fundamental research to performing clinical
American Association for Cancer Research
Children’s National Medical
Washington, DC
• Is a member of the Children’s
Oncology Group (COG) Phase I
• Assesses and/or cares for more than
360,000 patients each year.
• Assesses and cares for about
225 newly diagnosed cancer patients
each year.
• Provided more than $100 million in
Community Benefit services in 2011.
research using our healthcare delivery system as a natural
laboratory in which research can continue in everyday patientclinician interactions.
Improved Biospecimen Collection and
Repository System
Biospecimens, such as samples of tumors that have been removed
from cancer patients, are the backbone of cancer research. A great
deal of the current understanding of cancer biology comes from
studying the differences between tumor tissue and healthy tissue,
between primary tumors and metastases and among different
types of tumors. In this way, researchers are able to identify
weaknesses to be exploited to potentially kill cancer cells.
Many research questions do not require direct access to patients
and can be studied using the patients’ donated biospecimens. If a
repository of samples, sometimes referred to as a “biobank” or a
“biorepository,” is available to researchers, then hundreds or even
thousands of samples can be tested quite rapidly. The utility of
research on archival tissue is highlighted by the fact that this
strategy has already led to a number of scientific discoveries,
including the identification of HCV and the determination that HIV
originates from a precursor Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV),
among others. The examination of biospecimens from clinical trial
participants is also a promising means to identify drug resistance
mechanisms, the knowledge of which can lead to the development
of new drugs to overcome such resistance.
are required to extract meaning from mountains of numbers and
have necessitated the engagement of experts in the fields of
informatics and computational biology.
Currently, most biospecimens are collected and stored by a variety
of institutions, organizations or individual researchers, making them
inaccessible to the greater research community. Broader access to
the samples would increase their value and accelerate subsequent
discovery; this could be achieved by establishing a national
repository of high-quality, clinically annotated tissue samples
collected using global standards in privacy protection and
archiving. Before any such repository is created, universal
standards for collection, annotation, cataloging and storage must
be agreed upon and adopted. Further, as research is performed
using these samples, it will be imperative that the results from any
analyses be archived at the appropriate time(s) and identified as
associated with the original sample, enhancing continued discovery
and decision-making. Here, too, the development and adoption of
standards for data formats and sharing must precede the
generation of data sets.
Finally, due to advances in genetic testing that have made it
possible to link unlabeled biospecimens to individuals, patient
privacy and consent are of the utmost importance, and ethical
safeguards must also be agreed upon and adopted to ensure that
patients are protected.
Multidisciplinary Team Approaches and
Modern science and medicine has taught us that to obtain a
comprehensive picture of the complex set of diseases called
cancer, it will be necessary to overcome barriers to progress and
explore opportunities for new knowledge, new models, and new
collaborative partnerships. This means integrating scientific fields,
for example immunology and cancer biology, two areas that have
historically tended to function independently. It also means bringing
in to the cancer research effort the non-biological disciplines, such
as physical, chemical, engineering and mathematical sciences,
which can provide novel insights into important material properties
of cancer.
For multidisciplinary teams to be effective and yield new advances
against cancer, we must invest in the training of both current and
future researchers so that they are able to work productively within
this new team environment. Also, one of the most important things
to learn is how to communicate effectively across research
disciplines, each with its own jargon and scientific foci. Developing
successful teamwork skills requires learning to work across
disciplines and academic departments and the knowledge of how
to cooperate across states, regions and continents.
Successfully translating research into effective cancer interventions
requires more than just dedicated and talented researchers. Along
the journey from scientific discovery to intervention is a wide
variety of stakeholders, including members of academia, funders,
regulators, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries,
philanthropic organizations, patient advocacy groups and the
patients themselves (see Fig. 21, p. 79).
One type of partnership that provides an interesting opportunity to
drive future innovation and accelerate productivity while reducing
the cost of research and development is precompetitive
Public-Private Partnerships
Public-private partnerships are a form of collaboration
wherein otherwise competitive entities work together because
the scope or complexity of the project is too large and/or
difficult for any one stakeholder to successfully accomplish
alone. There are several types and models for these
collaborations; generally, the types of information and
products that are shared are considered to be highly valuable,
but not monetizable in the shared form (135).
Some successful examples are:
• Myelin Repair Foundation’s Accelerated Research
• Open Source Drug Discovery Consortium
• The Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC)
• Asia Cancer Research Group
• The Human Genome Project
Advances in technology now allow researchers to generate vast
amounts of data. The combination of huge genomic data sets with
complex cancer biology has created new opportunities for
understanding cancer, but it has also yielded new hurdles and
scientific needs. New and more sophisticated analytical methods
• The SNP and Biomarker Consortia
• Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium
• The Critical Path Institute
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Figure 21: Working Together to Save Lives.
Future progress against cancer will require the
dedicated commitment of many individuals,
including academic scientists and clinical
researchers from a wide variety of specialties
(microscope), citizen advocates and
philanthropic organizations (megaphone),
government (U.S. Capitol), regulatory agencies
(FDA symbol), biotechnology and
pharmaceutical industries (pills), physicians
(stethoscope), diagnostics companies
(notepad), funding agencies and philanthropic
organizations (NIH building) and payers
(health insurance card). Central to
transformative advances against cancer
are the patients and survivors themselves.
collaboration, which refers to the sharing of research findings that
have traditionally been considered proprietary commercial assets
(e.g., genomic data sets or clinical trial comparator arm data)
between financially distinct companies, organizations and
institutions; see Sidebar on Public-Private Partnerships, p. 78).
Equally important are academia-industry collaborations and publicprivate partnerships, such as the Structural Genomics Consortium,
an open-access database of the structures of biomedically relevant
proteins that includes several large pharmaceutical companies
among its members and financial backers. To encourage more
cooperation of this nature across the sectors, it will be necessary to
provide support and encouragement, such as tax incentives,
funding and/or policy changes, to those who actively participate.
Effective collaborations between regulators and those involved in
the drug development process are also required to speed the
delivery of new treatment approaches to patients with cancer.
Among the many issues that must be resolved in the near future are
regulatory policies and incentives that allow multiple companies to
test investigational targeted agents as therapeutic combinations in a
single clinical trial. Although these efforts have begun and several
companies are moving forward in a collaborative testing of this
nature, many obstacles remain to be addressed. The rapid pace of
innovation in cancer science and medicine requires that there be
ongoing, robust communications between the FDA and the scientific
American Association for Cancer Research
community. This is essential to ensure the seamless integration of
science into the regulatory process.
Improved Approaches to Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are a central component of cancer research, as they
are the only way for therapies that show promise in laboratory
studies to be translated into treatments that extend and improve
the lives of cancer patients (see Fig. 7, p. 25). It typically takes
many years for cancer clinical trials to determine the safety and
efficacy of a particular treatment. If we are to accelerate this
process for the benefit of cancer patients, all stakeholders (Fig. 21)
must work together to overcome the obstacles that are preventing
the conduct of faster, more efficient clinical cancer trials.
Low participation in clinical trials by adult cancer patients leads to
delays in completion or even trial termination, which is a major
hurdle that all clinical trials must be address. In fact, fewer than 5%
of adults diagnosed with cancer participate in a clinical trial,
Fewer than
of adult cancer
patients participate in clinical trials.
Molecularly Informed
Clinical Trials
Cancer drug development is typically done in a series of clinical
trials that expand in numbers of participants and duration,
referred to as Phase I, II and III clinical trials. Phase II trials enroll
small numbers of patients to test whether an investigational
drug is effective at reducing tumor burden. On the other hand,
Phase III trials involve very large numbers of patients and take
more time to complete. These trials assume homogeneity in both
the patients and the tumors; however, we now know that they
are heterogeneous and multiple subpopulations exist, such as
the presence of different genetic mutations. By contrast, the
“Personalized Trial” approach recognizes the heterogeneous
nature of the disease at the outset of the trial and the possibility
that not every treatment will be effective for all patients.
In the clinical trial depicted above/below, patients are genetically
screened and randomized to one of several treatments. The goal
is to match experimental treatments with molecular subtypes of
disease and ultimately generate “biomarker signatures.”
Experimental agents are dropped early (red X) in Phase II trials if
they fail to benefit patients; however, treatments that show a
benefit for a particular group of patients continue to be assessed
in further clinical testing. There are numerous efficiencies in this
process that speed drug development, including having multiple
groups simultaneously receiving investigational agents and only
a single, common comparator. But the major efficiency is
enabling a Phase III trial that is an order of magnitude smaller
than in the traditional approach because it focuses only on the
responding patient population. Two trials employing these trial
designs are I-SPY 2 and BATTLE-2.
In the I-SPY 2 trial, experimental therapies are given prior to
surgery, and response is determined by a series of MRI images
that track tumor size. Patients are genetically screened for a
number of biomarkers, and the researchers use that information
to generate a common biomarker “signature” for patients who
respond to a particular therapy. As the trial progresses, the
experience of patients that have completed the trial is used to
change the course of the trial while it is still active, rather than
waiting until it has completely ended.
The BATTLE-2 trial aims to stratify advanced stage non-smallcell lung cancer patients genetically and determine outcomes in
real time. This trial randomly assigns non-small-cell lung cancer
patients to a targeted therapy and then follows patient response
as a function of their genotype. The results of the very similarly
structured, recently completed BATTLE trial suggest that this
approach will be successful at linking biomarker signatures to
drug response.
The BATTLE trials and the I-SPY 2 trial have given us a window
into the future of cancer clinical trials. They highlight how
cooperation between all stakeholders can lead to new flexible
clinical trials that more efficiently and more rapidly meet the
urgent needs of cancer patients. Continued collaboration is
required to develop other innovative clinical trial designs that
can expedite testing of new drug combinations and assess the
ability of therapies to prevent metastasis.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Disease-free survival is the
length of time a patient is in complete
remission following treatment.
despite the fact that clinical trials are an opportunity to receive the
newest and potentially most innovative treatments for their
disease. Low participation is even more pronounced in
underserved, minority and advanced-age populations, leading to
concerns about the applicability of trial results to these subgroups.
The reasons why patients do not participate in clinical trials
include, but are not limited to, the lack of patient awareness; lack
of physician awareness, encouragement or engagement in the
research enterprise; fear of adverse side effects; bothersome trial
requirements; ineligibility; and language or cultural barriers.
One of the greatest challenges in clinical trials is accruing enough
patients to statistically prove that a given therapy has had an effect.
To confirm a small, but significant therapeutic effect, a large number
of patients must be enrolled in a given clinical trial to be sure that
observed differences in outcomes are due to the effects of the
therapy and not due to chance. Having a greater number of patients
on trial translates to more time and increasing costs. One approach
to accelerate the speed with which a clinical trial reaches a
conclusion about the value of a new therapy is to enroll only those
patients most likely to benefit from the treatment being tested. To
achieve such a selective cohort, we need to identify biomarkers that
predict a patient’s chance of responding to the investigational
therapy, such as having a mutation that will be targeted by the drug
being tested. A benefit of this selective strategy is that patients
unlikely to respond to the therapy will not be enrolled and, therefore,
will avoid exposure to unnecessary side effects. Furthermore, trials
with preselected cohorts require fewer patients because the effects
of the drugs will not be averaged across responders and nonresponders alike. Identifying biomarkers for subpopulations who
respond is challenging, and new trial designs are being
implemented to combine biomarker discovery and validation with
the development of new drugs (see Sidebar on Molecularly
Informed Clinical Trials, p. 80). Many scientific and policy issues
must be considered for these new trial designs.
Another way to speed the drug development process is to reduce
the length of time it takes to complete a clinical trial. The preferred
endpoint used in clinical trials to determine a cancer treatment’s
efficacy is overall patient survival, which is often only measurable
after a period of several years. As such, it can take a long time to
Progression-free survival is
the period during which a patient does
not experience any new tumor growth
or cancer spread during or after
American Association for Cancer Research
obtain definitive results of clinical trials. Surrogate endpoints that
can be measured in less time than overall survival, such as
progression-free survival, disease-free survival and tumor response
(assessed by advanced imaging technologies, for example) are
increasingly being used. To use surrogate endpoints to speed the
drug development process, researchers must first prove that
positive short-term surrogate endpoints actually lead to the
intended long-term outcome (i.e., extended overall survival).
Regulators who evaluate clinical trials must also agree on the
relevance of such surrogates; therefore, interactions between
clinical researchers and regulators are critical to the further
development and approval of these endpoints to bring about
prompter clinical trial conclusions.
Overall survival is the proportion
of patients alive at a given time after
treatment began.
Adoption of Learning Healthcare
The community that conducts cancer research and the community
that implements the practical results of those findings in everyday
clinical settings have all too often been poorly connected. As a result,
the flow of research information can be unidirectional, from
researchers to practitioners. Yet, there is much to be learned from the
everyday care of patients if the appropriate data is collected about
treatments and outcomes. Widespread adoption of electronic medical
records (EMRs) will make it possible to more easily access and
compile such clinical data. It will be essential to ensure that EMRs
include standardized data fields sufficient to catalyze secondary
research and foster the flow of empirical observations to drive new
research questions. These data represent a previously untapped
research resource and provide evidence created in settings that are
representative of community care. Recently, there has been growing
emphasis on reducing the separation between the research
community and the clinical care community to take advantage of the
vast amount of data collected during routine care to improve patient
care. Care delivery systems that can actively contribute to research
and improve the delivery of care are referred to as “learning
healthcare systems” (see Sidebar on Learning Healthcare
Systems, p. 29) and these will be vital to ensuring that therapies that
help patients in theory actually help them in practice.
We are rapidly moving towards a future in which we understand
cancer at a fundamental level. We are able to harness emerging
technologies—along with new approaches of gathering, managing
and interpreting the wealth of information they will provide—to
achieve a world free from cancer. The U.S. could make no better
choice than to continue to invest the resources needed to ensure that
cancer is finally conquered for all of its citizens and the world alike. 81
Investment in Cancer Research and
Biomedical Science Saves Lives, Fuels
Innovation and Boosts the Economy
This Report celebrates the many ways we are making research
count for patients by turning scientific discoveries into better
approaches for preventing, detecting, diagnosing and treating
cancer. In the past 12 months alone, we can point to significant
progress: continued reduction in the overall cancer death rate;
forward strides in cancer prevention, including FDA approval of one
new drug for cancer prevention; critical advances in cancer
treatment, including eight new drugs for cancer treatment and four
new uses of previously approved drugs; and the beginnings of
integration of whole-genome sequencing in the clinic, which
promises to change the practice of oncology. In addition, scientists
at institutions in every single state across the Nation reported a
myriad of basic science discoveries that are revealing novel,
unanticipated insights that may well offer the keys to the next
major advances for cancer patients.
NIH Is the Catalyst for
Progress Against Cancer
The NIH is one of the most important enterprises of this Nation. It is
responsible for seeking fundamental knowledge about the nature
and behavior of living systems and the application of that
knowledge enhances public health, lengthens life, reduces the
burden of illness and disability and saves lives. It does this by
supporting exceptional scientists and clinicians at more than
3,000 universities, medical schools, medical centers, teaching
hospitals, small businesses and research institutions across the
country. In fact, more than $25B (80%) of its $30B budget is
provided to these independent researches who are working in
communities in every state.
Federal investments of $3.8 billion into
the 15-year Human Genome Project
generated as much as $796 billion,
raised personal income by $244 billion
and created as many as 310,000 jobs.
Core to the NIH’s mission and essential to the entire cancer
research ecosystem is the fundamental research that it supports.
While industry is willing to invest in late-stage research to bring
advances in scientific understanding to commercial realization, only
the federal government can fund the basic research that marks the
beginning of the pipeline (Fig. 22, p. 83). Industry-sponsored R&D
is rightfully performed with a near-term financial return in mind, but
at the NIH the returns are measured in lives both saved and
improved with benefits accruing over a longer time span.
Cancer research is primarily funded through the NCI, one of the 27
institutes and centers that make up the NIH. During its 40-year
history, NCI-funded research has driven significant advances in the
understanding of cancer and our ability to prevent, detect, diagnose
and treat it. In addition, NIH- and NCI-supported research has
spurred advances in health care that have significantly reduced the
burden of cancer and transformed the lives of a growing number of
cancer patients, the 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. alone.
This remarkable progress would not have been possible without the
long-standing, bipartisan commitment of our nation’s policymakers
to invest in research through the NIH (see Sidebar on The NIH),
p. 83).
While the NIH does not attempt to realize a financial return from the
research it funds, it does in fact generate significant financial
“I believe that for every dollar we spend in biomedical research through NIH, through the states
and through private organizations, we get a ten-fold return — and probably more than that. It’s the
beginning. It’s catalyst for much more. I think you will see much more of that in the future.”
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Ed
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Figure 22: The Public and Private Sectors Invest Heavily, but Differently, in Biomedical Research. The biotechnology and pharmaceutical
industry invests 40% more than the NIH in biomedical research. However, little of this investment is made in basic research, because the private
sector business model requires rapid returns on its investments in order to remain viable. In contrast, the NIH dedicates more than 50% of its
budget to fund basic research, which informs the translational and clinical research performed by the private sector. Continued complementary
investments by both sectors are required for continued success.
returns. Thirty years ago, the Bayh–Dole Act was passed, allowing
universities and investigators to lay claim to intellectual property
developed using federal research dollars. This has helped spawn
the multibillion dollar biotech sector, where entrepreneurial
researchers have created companies from their discoveries, adding
high-skilled jobs and creating new industries as a direct result of
federal research investments which aid in moving basic findings to
effective treatments in the clinic.
One of the most paradigm-shifting federally funded biomedical
research projects in the past 20 years was the Human Genome
Project, which serves as a case study in how research investments
generate significant financial and societal returns. Much as NASA’s
lunar mission spurred rapid advances in communications and
aeronautics that quickly opened new doors to widespread use of
associated technologies, the sequencing of the genome has
fundamentally changed the way we think about human health and
enabled entirely new approaches to research. Analysis of the 15year, $3.8-billion project indicated that the investment resulted in
as much as $796 billion in associated economic activity and raised
personal income by $244 billion. In 2010, as many as 310,000 jobs
owed their existence to the effects of this project (117). The
information and technologies emerging from the Human Genome
Project radically changed researchers’ approaches to studying
cancer, a disease driven by genetic abnormalities, and as a result
the pace of progress has been accelerated dramatically.
American Association for Cancer Research
The NIH is the leading supporter of biomedical research in the
world, research that improves human health. Thanks in large part
to NIH research, the average life expectancy in the U.S. today is
nearly age 79, almost 30 years longer than it was in 1900, and
the proportion of older people with chronic disabilities has
dropped by nearly 1/3 over the past 25 years.
The NIH is comprised of 27 research-focused institutes and
centers, including the NCI, which is the largest single NIH
institute. Research at these institutes and centers, called
intramural research, accounts for approximately 11% of the NIH
budget and involves nearly 6,000 researchers and staff, in
addition to 5,000 trainees.
More than 80% of the NIH budget is competitively awarded to
researchers as extramural research grants, rigorously peer
reviewed for relevance and scientific and technical merit.
NIH funding generates scientific discoveries and fuels new
economic activity and employment in the communities that
receive its funds. NIH funds support the work of more than
432,000 researchers and research personnel at more than 3,000
universities, medical schools, medical centers, teaching hospitals,
small businesses and research institutions in every state.
In 2011, NIH research funding created 432,094 jobs and
generated $62.13 billion in new economic activity across the
$6.3 billion
The NIH has lost
from its budget over the last decade.
(calculated using the Biomedical
Research and Development Price Index
(BRDPI), FY2003-present)
Most federally funded research projects are not as large as the
Human Genome Project, and the estimated 141-fold return on
investment is hard to match, but in the aggregate the $30 billion of
NIH-sponsored research in 2010 is estimated to have supported
close to a half a million jobs and to have spawned an additional
$69 billion in economic activity (118). As our Nation seeks to
recover from a long recession and a period of high unemployment,
cutting funding to a proven economic generator is simply poor
fiscal policy.
Some research advances have led to new interventions that can
balance rising health care costs by avoiding needless treatments.
One such technology is FDG-PET imaging, which improves staging
and reduces unnecessary surgeries for Hodgkin’s disease (119).
Another example is molecular diagnostic tests that predict which
patients are unlikely to suffer a cancer recurrence and can safely
forego costly treatment (120). Continued application of our growing
knowledge will undoubtedly expand on these examples and provide
additional opportunities for cost savings and improved health.
Dwindling Research Budget and Threats
of Drastic Cuts Threaten Progress for
Patients, Economy
At a time of constrained budgets, scarce federal dollars must be
invested wisely. Funding cancer research and biomedical science
through the NIH and NCI is a wise choice that will improve both
America’s health and prosperity, and supporting these agencies
should remain a top priority. However, in practical terms, the NIH
budget has been steadily shrinking since 2003 due to biomedical
inflation (Fig. 23). In fact, the NIH has lost nearly 20% of its ability
to fund live-saving research over the past decade.
While the erosion of the NIH budget has been a slow and chronic
problem, we face an acute challenge as 2013 begins. Because of
budgetary deficits, an automatic budget-cutting action known as a
“sequester” (see Sidebar on Sequestration p. 85) will occur
beginning on January 2, 2013 if Congress does not take action to
avert this crisis. The sequestration is slated to cut all federal
discretionary budgets, which includes the NIH, by approximately
8%. A cut of this magnitude would have an adverse effect on every
aspect of the NIH, sparing no Institute, Center or program from an
immediate substantial reduction in funding.
In testimony before Congress, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D.,
Ph.D. described sequestration’s effect on the NIH as potentially
Figure 23: A Bleak Outlook for the NIH Budget in FY 2013. The outlook for the NIH budget is not promising, as of August 2012. The current
fiscal year (FY) 2012 NIH budget is $30.6 billion, having peaked in FY2010. The President’s Budget Proposal and a House-passed measure would
provide flat funding for FY2013, whereas the current Senate proposal would provide a $100 million increase. It is likely that Congress will pass a
Continuing Resolution to temporarily hold the budget at FY2012 levels. If sequestration is not averted by Congressional action, the NIH will suffer a
drastic cut, reducing its budget to $28.2 billion, reverting back to levels seen in 2004 (see Sidebar on Sequestration, p. 85).
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Sequestration Would Set-Back Cancer Research
and Impede Medical Progress
If Congress fails to act, funding for the NIH will be cut by about $2.4 billion or approximately 8% in January 2013 as a result of the
automatic across-the-board cuts (or sequestration) required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The estimated cut for NCI alone is
$396 million. These cuts would be in addition to any reductions made in the regular funding process for fiscal year 2013.
A cut of this magnitude would, according to NIH Director Francis Collins, adversely affect every aspect of the agency’s work and
would be particularly difficult for first-time investigators. A report by Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education warned that these cuts would mean missed opportunities for
scientific discovery that could lead to improvements in human health (136). HHS expressed deep concerns that the cuts would
“limit the Department’s ability to accelerate scientific knowledge and innovation (137).
Impact of an NIH and NCI Sequester
Current Funding level
2013 across-the-board cut (7.8% )
Potential 2013 level
$30.6 billion
$5.07 billion
-$2.4 billion
-$396 million
$28.2 billion
$4.674 billion
Potential Reductions in NIH grants
Potential U.S. Job loss
-$4.5 billion
-$740 million
Reduced economic activity
For information on the current status of NIH funding go to: www.cancerprogressreport.org/FederalFunding.aspx
“devastating,” adding that if this occurred “2,300 grants that NIH
had planned to fund could not be awarded.” In addition, Dr. Collins
said that this would result in success rates falling to historically low
levels and would be devastating for many investigators, particularly
first-time investigators who are seeking to get their programs up
and running.
What is so concerning is that this threat of draconian cuts to the
NIH is occurring at a time where the potential for acceleration of
discoveries in cancer research have never been greater. Federal
investments in basic research have enabled the Nation’s scientists
to build upon each other’s work and make substantial progress in
preventing, detecting, diagnosing and treating cancer, but the
prospect of significant cuts threatens to undercut this momentum.
The initial scientific breakthrough that ultimately led to the cancer
chemotherapeutic drug imatinib occurred in the 1950s, but with
the available technology and understanding available at that time, it
took 40 years to convert that basic science discovery into a lifesaving treatment. Today, thanks to the knowledge that research has
provided about both normal and cancer cell biology, as well as
advances in technology, the time from basic discovery to an
effective treatment is now much shorter. For example, the
development and FDA approval of two recent targeted cancer drugs
approved in 2011, took as little as nine and four years (Fig. 24 p.
86). Reduced funding in this era would also mean arrested and
abandoned research (see Sidebar on Sequestration) when we are
best able to reap the benefits of our prior investments.
“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and
technology. A new era is beginning.”
Steve Jobs
Founder of Apple, Inc.
American Association for Cancer Research
Figure 24: The More We Know, the Faster We Go. As we have continued to amass knowledge about the inner workings of cancer and
technologies improve oand are developed, less time is required to develop new targeted therapies. In 1960, the BCR-Abl chromosomal
translocation in CML was first discovered. Because the necessary technologies and other fundamental knowledge were not yet in place, it took
over 40 years to develop and approve the first targeted agent, imatinib (Gleevec), which targets BCR-Abl. In 1978, overactive EGFR signaling was
associated with a subtype of lung cancer, and 26 years later, in 2004, the EGFR-inhibitor, gefitinib (Iressa), was FDA approved. More recently, in
2002, genome-wide screens first identified mutated B-Raf as a causative agent of nearly 50% of melanomas; the drug vemurafenib, which
targets it, was approved in 2011. Finally, the discovery of an ALK gene alteration in about 5% of lung cancers in 2007 led to the remarkably rapid
development and approval of the ALK inhibitor, crizotinib only four years later, in 2011. The time from target discovery to approval has declined
appreciably due to our increasing knowledge base and technical advances. It is important to note, however, that development and approval of
crizotinib had many advantages (such as jumpstarting development with a potent drug that had been previously tested in early phase trials for
other indications), and clinical development times cannot be reduced much further as clinical trials are required to assess safety and efficacy
steps. Adapted from (150).
Unfortunately, the decline in U.S. funding for biomedical research
comes at a time when other nations are giving a higher priority to
biomedical research and some are significantly increasing their
overall investments in science and technology. For example, China
has pledged to invest more than $300 billion in biomedical
research over the next five years (121). If current trends continue,
in only a few years, Chinese investment in life science research will
be double that of the U.S. A lack of commitment on the part of the
U.S. to prioritize and maintain its investment in science threatens
our Nation’s long-standing global leadership in innovation.
The declining NIH and NCI budgets are also creating an
environment where researchers face numerous disincentives to
continue in, or even enter into, research careers. It means the loss
of many young cancer investigators who will choose other careers
instead of scientific careers because of a lack of funding. These
disincentives are resulting in a loss of taxpayer-funded training and
are adversely affecting the Nation’s ability to maintain an optimal
workforce for the future of cancer research.
Furthermore, current fiscal austerity means that the success rates
for an investigator being awarded a research grant are diminished.
In fact, current investigators face an all-time low in funding
success rates, which has the detrimental effect of researchers
proposing lower risk ideas which are often less innovative (121).
This cycle creates missed opportunities to drive the science
forward, slowing the translation of benefit to the patient, which as a
country we cannot tolerate.
It is important to highlight that NIH funding of research across the
Nation results in a local economic impact that is at least double the
amount sponsored by the federal government. This multiplicative
effect works in reverse as well, and the threatened sequester cut of
$2.4 billion would likely drain twice that amount from local
economies. The ecosystem that produces biotech startups and new
jobs would be thrown in reverse at a time when job creation is a
social and economic priority.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
The AACR Call to Action
In order to fulfill the extraordinary scientific and medical promise of
cancer research and biomedical science, the AACR respectfully
urges Congress to:
• Work in a constructive, bipartisan fashion to find a more balanced
approach to address the federal deficit and prevent sequestration
from occurring in January 2013; and
• Designate NIH and NCI as top national priorities by providing
annual budget increases at least comparable to the biomedical
inflation rate.
While it is imperative that Congress take action to stop the
threatened sequester and once again make funding of the NIH and
NCI national priorities, the responsibility is not theirs alone. As such
the AACR also urges the citizens of this great Nation, who benefit
from this life-saving research, to urge their respective legislators to
support cancer research and biomedical science.
If we are to ultimately transform scientific discoveries into
therapies that improve the lives of cancer patients, it is going to
require an unwavering commitment of Congress and the
Administration to invest in our country’s remarkably productive
biomedical research enterprise led by the NIH and NCI.
577,190 people in the U.S.
are estimated to die of cancer in 2012.
American Association for Cancer Research
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AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) - An aggressive (fast-growing) type of leukemia
(blood cancer) in which too many lymphoblasts (immature white blood cells) are found
in the blood and bone marrow; also called acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) - A disease caused by the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV). People with AIDS are at an increased risk for developing
certain cancers and for infections that usually occur only in individuals with a weak
immune system.
Anaplastic lymphoma receptor tyrosine kinase (ALK) – The ALK gene makes the
ALK protein, which is found on the surface of some cells. The protein can initiate a
variety of signaling pathways, causing the cells it is found in to proliferate. The ALK
gene is altered in several types of cancer, including some lymphomas, some
neuroblastomas and some non–small cell lung carcinomas.
Androgen - A type of hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of
male sex characteristics.
Basal cell carcinoma - A form of skin cancer that begins in a type of cell in the skin
that produces new skin cells as old ones die off. It is the most common cancer, but it
rarely metastasizes.
B cell - A type of immune cell that makes proteins, called antibodies, which bind to
microorganisms and other foreign substances, and help fight infections. A B cell is a
type of white blood cell; also called B lymphocyte.
BCR-Abl – A protein made from pieces of two genes that are joined together. It is
found in most patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and in some
patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) or acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
Inside the leukemia cells, the ABL gene from chromosome 9 joins to the BCR gene on
chromosome 22 to form the BCR-Abl fusion gene, which makes the BCR-Abl fusion
Bioinformatics - The science of using computers, databases and mathematics to
organize and analyze large amounts of biological, medical and health information.
Information may come from many sources, including patient statistics, tissue
specimens, genetics research and clinical trials.
Biomedical Research Inflation - Biomedical inflation is calculated using the annual
change in the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI), which
indicates how much the NIH budget must change to maintain purchasing power. Over
the last five year, the biomedical inflation rate has been double the economy-wide
inflation rate on average.
Biospecimen - Samples of material, such as urine, blood, tissue, cells, DNA, RNA and
protein from humans, animals or plants. Biospecimens are stored in a biobank or
biorepository and are used for laboratory research. If the samples are from people,
medical information may also be stored along with a written consent to use the
samples in laboratory studies.
Biomarker - A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids or tissues that is a
sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be
used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition; also
called molecular marker and signature molecule.
B-RAF – The B-RAF protein is generated from the BRAF gene. It is found inside certain
cell types, where it is involved in sending signals that direct cell proliferation.
Mutations in the BRAF gene have been associated with various cancers, including
some non-Hodgkin lymphomas, colorectal cancers, melanomas, thyroid cancers and
lung cancers.
BRCA1/2 (Breast Cancer Resistance Genes 1 and 2) - Genes that normally help to
suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA1 or
BRCA2 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate and some other types
of cancer.
Cancer - A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can
invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through
the blood and lymph systems. There are several main types of cancer. Carcinoma is a
cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. Sarcoma
is a cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or other
connective or supportive tissue. Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood-forming
tissue such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to
be produced and enter the blood. Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are cancers that
begin in the cells of the immune system. Central nervous system cancers are cancers
that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord. Also called malignancy.
Carcinogen - Any substance that causes cancer.
Cervical cancer – A group of cancers that are named for the kinds of cells found in
the cancer and by how they look under a microscope. The two main types of cervical
cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Most cervical cancers are
caused by persistent infection with certain strains of human papilloma virus (HPV).
Normal cells of the cervix do not suddenly become cancerous, they first gradually
develop pre-cancerous changes then later turn into cancer. These changes can be
detected by the Pap test and treated to prevent the development of cancer.
Chemoprevention - The use of drugs, vitamins or other agents to try to reduce the
risk of, or delay the development or recurrence of, cancer.
Chemotherapy - The use of different drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
Chromosome - Part of a cell that contains genetic information. Except for sperm and
eggs, all human cells contain 46 chromosomes.
American Association for Cancer Research
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) - A slowly progressing disease in which too
many white blood cells (not lymphocytes) are made in the bone marrow. Also called
chronic granulocytic leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia.
Clinical trial - A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches
work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or
treatment of a disease. Also called clinical study.
Clinical trial phase - A part of the clinical research process that answers specific
questions about whether treatments that are being studied work and are safe. Phase I
trials test the best way to give a new treatment and the best dose. Phase II trials test
whether a new treatment has an effect on the disease. Phase III trials compare the
results of people taking a new treatment with the results of people taking the standard
treatment. Phase IV trials are done using thousands of people after a treatment has
been approved and marketed, to check for side effects that were not seen in the phase
III trial.
Colonoscopy - Examination of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope, inserted
into the rectum. A colonoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for
viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope
for signs of disease.
Colorectal cancer – A group of cancers that start in the colon or the rectum. More
than 95% of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas that start in cells that form
glands that make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum. Before a
cancer develops, a growth of tissue or tumor usually begins as a non-cancerous polyp
on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Most polyps can be found, for example
through colonoscopy, and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer.
Computed tomography (CT) - A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray
machine. Also called CAT scan, computerized axial tomography scan, and
computerized tomography.
Cytotoxic chemotherapy - Anticancer drugs that kill cells, especially cancer cells.
CTLA-4 (Cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4) – A protein on the surface of immune
cells called T cells (see T cell). When CTLA-4 attaches to certain proteins on other
immune cells, it sends signals into the T cells to tell them to slow down and stop
acting aggressively. Thus, CTLA-4 acts as an immune checkpoint protein.
Double contrast magnetic imaging resonance (DC-MRI) - A procedure in which
radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed
pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between
normal and diseased tissue. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) makes better images
of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed
tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the
soft tissue of joints and the inside of bones. DC-MRI uses repeated imaging to track
the entrance of diffusible contrast agents into tissue over time.
Death rate/mortality rate - The number of deaths in a certain group of people in a
certain period of time. Mortality may be reported for people who have a certain
disease, live in one area of the country, or who are of a certain gender, age or ethnic
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) – The molecules inside cells that carry genetic
information and pass it from one generation to the next.
Drug Resistance - The failure of cancer cells, viruses or bacteria to respond to a
drug used to kill or weaken them. The cells, viruses or bacteria may be resistant to
the drug at the beginning of treatment or may become resistant after being exposed
to the drug.
EGFR (Epidermal growth factor receptor) - A protein found on the surface of some
cells to which epidermal growth factor binds, causing the cells to proliferate. It is found
at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells, so these cells
may divide excessively in the presence of epidermal growth factor; also called ErbB1
and HER1.
Endpoint - In clinical trials, an event or outcome that can be measured objectively to
determine whether the intervention being studied is beneficial. The endpoints of a
clinical trial are usually included in the study objectives. Some examples of endpoints
are survival, improvements in quality of life, relief of symptoms and disappearance of
the tumor.
Epidemiology - The study of the patterns, causes and control of disease in groups of
Epigenetics - The study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype
caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Examples
of such changes might be DNA methylation or histone deacetylation, both of which
serve to suppress gene expression without altering the sequence of the silenced genes.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) - A common virus that remains dormant in most people. It
causes infectious mononucleosis and has been associated with certain cancers,
including Burkitt’s lymphoma, immunoblastic lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) - An inherited condition in which numerous
polyps (growths that protrude from mucous membranes) form on the inside walls of
the colon and rectum. It increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Also called familial
Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) - A type of tumor that usually begins in cells
in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. It can be benign or malignant.
Gene - The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring.
Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a
specific protein.
Gliobastoma (GBM) - A fast-growing type of central nervous system tumor that forms
from glial (supportive) tissue of the brain and spinal cord, and has cells that look very
different from normal cells. Glioblastoma usually occurs in adults and affects the brain
more often than the spinal cord. Also called glioblastoma multiforme and grade IV
Growth factor - A substance made by the body that functions to regulate cell division
and cell survival. Some growth factors are also produced in the laboratory and used in
biological therapy.
Hedgehog signaling pathway – This signaling pathway is a key regulator of embryo
development. It gives cells information about what type of cell they should become and
is particularly important for limb development. It is also active in cells in the adult.
Inappropriate activation of the hedgehog signaling pathway has been implicated in the
development of several types of cancers, including some brain, lung, breast, prostate
and skin cancers.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) - A type of bacterium that causes inflammation and
ulcers in the stomach or small intestine. People with Helicobacter pylori infections may
be more likely to develop cancer in the stomach, including mucosa-associated
lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) - A virus that causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). It is
carried and passed to others through the blood and other body fluids. Different ways
the virus is spread include sharing needles with an infected person and being stuck
accidentally by a needle contaminated with the virus. Infants born to infected mothers
may also become infected with the virus. Although many patients who are infected
with hepatitis B virus may not have symptoms, long-term infection may lead to
cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) - A virus that causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). It is
carried and passed to others through the blood and other body fluids. Different ways
the virus is spread include sharing needles with an infected person and being stuck
accidentally by a needle contaminated with the virus. Infants born to infected mothers
may also become infected with the virus. Although patients who are infected with
hepatitis C virus may not have symptoms, long-term infection may lead to cirrhosis
(scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. These patients may also have an increased risk
for certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
HER2 (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2) - A protein found on the
surface of some cells that can initiate a variety of signaling pathways, causing the cells
to proliferate. It is found at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of
cancer cells, including some breast cancer cells, so these cells may divide excessively;
also called ErbB2 and Neu.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - The cause of acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome (AIDS).
Hormone - One of many chemicals made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in
the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs. Some hormones can
also be made in the laboratory.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) – A type of virus that can cause abnormal tissue
growth (for example, warts) and other changes to cells. Infection for a long time with
certain types of human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer. Human
papillomavirus may also play a role in some other types of cancer, such as anal,
vaginal, vulvar, penile, oropharyngeal, and squamous cell skin cancers.
Inflammation - Redness, swelling, pain and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body.
This is a protective reaction to injury, disease or irritation of the tissues.
Immune system - A diffuse, complex network of interacting cells, cell products and
cell-forming tissues that protects the body from invading microorganisms and other
foreign substances, destroys infected and malignant cells and removes cellular debris.
The immune system includes the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and lymph tissue, stem
cells, white blood cells, antibodies and lymphokines.
Immunotherapy - Treatment designed to produce immunity to a disease or enhance
the resistance of the immune system to an active disease process, as cancer.
Incidence - The number of new cases of a disease diagnosed each year.
Janus kinases (JAKs) – A family of proteins that work inside cells, in particular blood
cells, including those of the immune system, to send signals that direct cell
proliferation and survival.
KRAS - The KRAS gene makes the KRAS protein, which is involved in cell signaling
pathways, cell growth, and apoptosis (cell death), may cause cancer when mutated
(changed). Agents that block the activity of the mutated KRAS gene or its protein
product may stop the growth of cancer.
Leukemia - Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and
causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.
Lesion - An area of abnormal tissue. A lesion may be benign (not cancer) or malignant
Lumpectomy - Surgery to remove abnormal tissue or cancer from the breast and a
small amount of normal tissue around it. It is a type of breast-sparing surgery.
Lymphatic vessels (system) - The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry
white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases. This system includes the
bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels (a network of thin
tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells). Lymphatic vessels branch, like blood
vessels, into all the tissues of the body.
mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapomycin) – A protein kinase that regulates cell
growth, cell proliferation, cell motility, cell survival, protein synthesis and transcription.
mTOR is also known as mechanistic target of rapamycin or FK506 binding protein 12rapamycin associated protein 1 (FRAP1).
Mammography - The use of film or a computer to create a picture of the breast.
Mastectomy - Surgery to remove the breast (or as much of the breast tissue as
Melanoma - A form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment
melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but can also begin in other
pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines.
Metastasis - The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor
formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumor” or a “metastasis.” The
metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor. The
plural form of metastasis is metastases.
Microbiome - A microbiome is the totality of the genomes of all of the microorganisms
in a defined environment. The humans body contains over 10 times more
microorganisms than human cells.
Multiple myeloma - A type of cancer that begins in plasma cells (white blood cells
that produce antibodies). Also called Kahler disease, myelomatosis and plasma cell
Mutation - Any change in the DNA of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes
during cell proliferation or by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment.
Mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make
eggs or sperm, they can be inherited; if mutations occur in other types of cells, they
are not inherited. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases.
Nanotechnology - A technology executed on the scale of less than 100 nanometers,
the goal of which is to control individual atoms and molecules, especially to create
computer chips and other microscopic devices.
National Cancer Institute (NCI) – The largest of the 27 research-focused institutes
and centers of the National Institutes of Health. The NCI coordinates the National
Cancer Program, which conducts and supports research, training, health information
dissemination and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention and
treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer
patients and the families of cancer patients.
Neuroblastoma – A type of cancer that starts in immature nerve cells affects mostly
infants and children. Most neuroblastomas begin in the abdomen in the adrenal gland
or next to the spinal cord, or in the chest.
Non–small cell lung carcinoma - A group of lung cancers that are named for the
kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look under a microscope. The
three main types of non–small cell lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, large
cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Non–small cell lung cancer is the most common
kind of lung cancer.
Oncogene - A gene that is a mutated (changed) form of a gene involved in normal cell
growth. Oncogenes may cause the growth of cancer cells. Mutations in genes that
become oncogenes can be inherited or caused by being exposed to substances in the
environment that cause cancer.
Papanicolaou (Pap) test - A test of a sample of cells taken from a woman’s cervix.
The test is used to look for changes in the cells of the cervix that show cervical cancer
or conditions that may develop into cancer. It is the best tool to detect precancerous
conditions and hidden, small tumors that may ultimately develop into cervical cancer.
Pancreatic cancer – A group of cancers that start in cells of the pancreas, an organ
located behind the stomach. Most pancreatic cancers begin in cells in the pancreas
that make the “juice” that helps digest food, and the most common of these cancers
are called adenocarcinomas. Pancreatic cancers that arise in the cells of the pancreas
that help control blood sugar levels are called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor - A rare cancer that forms in the islets of
Langerhans cells (a type of cell found in the pancreas). Also called islet cell carcinoma.
Peripheral neuropathy - damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system as a
result of any one of numerous things, including trauma and exposure to some of the
cytotoxic chemotherapies used to treat cancer. Symptoms depend on the type of
nerves affected, but numbness, loss of sensation and pain in the hands and feet are
Philadelphia chromosome - An abnormality of chromosome 22 in which part of
chromosome 9 is transferred to it. Bone marrow cells that contain the Philadelphia
chromosome are often found in chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Phosphatidylinositol 3-kinases (PI3Ks) – A family of proteins that work inside cells
to send signals that direct numerous cellular functions, including cell growth,
proliferation and survival.
The gene that encodes one component of one PI3K is mutated, resulting in an
inappropriately active protein in many types of cancer, including some breast cancers.
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Polyp - A benign growth that protrudes from a mucous membrane.
Positron emission tomography (PET) - A procedure in which a small amount of
radioactive dye (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed,
computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the dye travels; also called PET
scan. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, when combined
with a radioactive glucose (sugar) called FDG, the pictures can be used to find cancer
cells in the body, including micrometastases; this type of procedure is called FDG-PET.
Prevalence - the number or percent of people alive on a certain date in a population
who previously had a diagnosis of the disease. It includes new (incidence) and preexisting cases, and is a function of both past incidence and survival.
PD1 (Programmed death-1) - A protein on the surface of immune cells called T cells
(see T cell). When PD1 attaches to PDL1 on other immune cells, it sends signals into
the T cells to tell them to slow down and stop acting aggressively. Thus, PD1 acts as
an immune checkpoint protein.
Prostate Cancer – A form of cancer that starts in tissues of the prostate (a gland in
the male reproductive system found below the bladder and in front of the rectum). In
men, it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause
of death from cancer.
Prostatic Specific Antigen (PSA) - A protein secreted by the prostate gland,
increased levels of which are found in the blood of patients with cancer of the
Protein - A molecule made up of amino acids that is needed for the body to function
Radiation - Energy released in the form of particle or electromagnetic waves.
Common sources of radiation include radon gas, cosmic rays from outer space,
medical x-rays and energy given off by a radioisotope (unstable form of a chemical
element that releases radiation as it breaks down and becomes more stable).
Radiotherapy - The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons,
protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come
from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come
from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation
therapy). Systemic radiotherapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled
monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Also
called irradiation and radiation therapy.
Receptor – A protein in a cell that attaches to specific molecules, like hormones, from
outside the cell, in a lock-and-key manner, producing a specific effect on the cell, for
example, initiating cell proliferation. Receptors are most commonly found spanning the
membrane surrounding a cell but can be located within cells.
Renal cell carcinoma - The most common type of kidney cancer. It begins in the
lining of the renal tubules in the kidney. The renal tubules filter the blood and produce
urine. Also called hypernephroma, renal cell adenocarcinoma, and renal cell cancer.
Signaling pathway/signaling network - A group of molecules in a cell that work
together to control one or more cell functions, such as cell proliferation or cell death.
After the first molecule in a pathway receives a signal, it activates another molecule.
This process is repeated until the last molecule is activated and the cell function
involved is carried out. Abnormal activation of signaling pathways can lead to cancer,
and drugs are being developed to block these pathways. This may help block cancer
cell growth and kill cancer cells.
American Association for Cancer Research
Standard of care – The intervention or interventions generally provided for a certain
type of patient, illness or clinical circumstance. The intervention is typically supported
by evidence and/or expert consensus as providing the best outcomes for the given
Surrogate endpoint - A biomarker intended to substitute for a clinical endpoint (see
Endpoint). Surrogate markers are used when the primary endpoint is undesired (e.g.,
death), or when the number of events is very small, thus making it impractical to
conduct a clinical trial to gather a statistically significant number of endpoints. The FDA
and other regulatory agencies will often accept evidence from clinical trials that show
a direct clinical benefit to surrogate markers.
T cell - A type of immune cell that protects the body from invading microorganisms
and other foreign substances, and destroys infected and malignant cells. A T cell is a
type of white blood cell; also called T lymphocyte.
The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) - A project to catalogue genetic mutations
responsible for cancer, started in 2005. The goal of the project is to provide systematic,
comprehensive genomic characterization and sequence analysis of different types of
human cancers.
Treatment vaccine - A type of therapy that uses a substance or group of substances
to stimulate the immune system to destroy a tumor or infectious microorganisms such
as bacteria or viruses.
Triple-negative breast cancer – A form of breast cancer that lacks expression of
three proteins that can be targeted to treat breast cancer: HER2 and the specific
proteins, called receptors, that the hormones estrogen and progesterone attach to, the
estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor.
Tumor - An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they
should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or
malignant (cancer); also called neoplasm.
Tumor microenvironment - The normal cells, molecules and blood vessels that
surround and feed a cancer cell. A cancer can change its microenvironment, and the
microenvironment can affect how a tumor grows and spreads.
Tumor suppressor gene - A type of gene that makes a protein called a tumor
suppressor protein that helps control cell growth. Mutations (changes in DNA) in tumor
suppressor genes may lead to cancer; also called an antioncogene.
Vaccine - A substance or group of substances meant to cause the immune system to
respond to a tumor or to microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses. A vaccine can
help the body recognize and destroy cancer cells or microorganisms.
VEGF (Vascular endothelial growth factor) – A family of signaling proteins that bind
to molecules called VEGF receptors, found mostly on the surface of cells lining blood
and lymphatic vessel walls, causing an increase in the number or branches of blood
and lymphatic vessels.
Table 6A: FDA-Approved Chemicals for the Treatment of Cancer
Colon cancer
Testicular cancer
Certain lymphomas
Pancreatic cancer
Melanoma; certain
brain cancers
Certain leukemias
Multiple cancers
Ovarian and small cell
lung cancers
Bladder cancer
DNA Synthesis Inhibitors (Anti-metabolites)
Generic Name
5-fluorouracil (5FU)
Trade Name
Litrak; Movectro
DepoCyt; Cytosar-U
Rheumatrex; Trexall
DNA Damaging Agents
Approved Indication
Ovarian cancer
Certain leukemias
Multiple cancers
Certain lymphomas;
squamous cell and
testicular cancers
Certain leukemias
Breast, lung and
ovarian cancers
Brain tumors; certain
Multiple cancers
Multiple cancers
Multiple cancers
Melanoma; certain
brain cancers
Multiple cancers
Certain leukemias
Multiple cancers
Certain leukemias;
breast and stomach
Prostate cancer
Certain leukemias
Multiple cancers
Colon, lung and
rectal cancers
Brain tumors
Multiple cancers
Multiple cancers
Certain lymphomas
Multiple cancers
Generic Name
arsenic trioxide
bleomycin sulfate
Trade Name
Myleran; Busulfex
Paraplatin; Paraplat
Thioguanine Tabloid
Cell Cytoskeleton Modifying Agents
Approved Indication
Multiple cancers
Certain leukemias
Breast and colorectal
Certain leukemias;
Certain leukemias
Certain leukemias;
Stomach cancer
Certain leukemias;
Pancreatic cancer
Bladder, lung, and
pancreatic cancers
Certain leukemias
Multiple cancers
Multiple cancers
Certain leukemias;
Lung and ovarian
cancers; mesothelioma
Certain leukemias
Certain lymphomas
Approved Indication
Prostate cancer
Multiple cancers
Breast cancer
Breast cancer
Multiple cancers
Multiple cancers
Certain leukemias
and lymphomas
Certain leukemias
and lymphomas
Breast and lung
Generic Name
eribulin mesylate
Trade Name
vincristine sulfate
vinorelbine tartrate
Generic Name
Trade Name
Elspar; Kidrolase
Approved Indication
Certain leukemias
Gene Transcription Modifiers
Approved Indication
Certain lymphomas
Certain leukemias
Generic Name
tretinoin (all-trans
retinoic acid)
Trade Name
Adriamycin PFS;
Adriamycin RDF
Emcyt; Estracyt
Idamycin PFS
Camptosar; Campostar
Approved Indication
Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer
Breast cancer
Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer
Testicular and
lung cancers
Breast cancer
Prostate cancer
Metastatic breast
Prostate and breast
Breast cancer
Prostate cancer
Breast and endometrial
Pituitary cancer
Breast cancer
Prostate cancer
Generic Name
abiraterone acetate
etoposide phosphate
goserelin acetate
leuprolide acetate
megestrol acetate
triptorelin pamoate
Trade Name
Etopophos; Topusar;
Eligard; Lupron: Viadur
Megace; Megace
Oral Suspension
Trelstar Depot
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
Table 6B: FDA-Approved Monoclonal Antibodies for Oncology
Angiogenesis Inhibitor
Approved Indication
Multiple cancers
Melanoma; kidney
Generic Name
interferon alfa-2b
Trade Name
Intron A
Approved Indication
Colon; kidney; lung;
certain brain cancers
Generic Name
Trade Name
Blood Cancer Specific
Approved Indication
Certain leukemias
Certain lymphomas
Certain lymphomas
Certain leukemias
Certain lymphomas
Certain lymphomas
Proteosome Inhibitor
Approved Indication
Multiple myeloma
Multiple myeloma
Generic Name
Immune System Modifiers
Trade Name
Generic Name
brentuximab vedotin
tositumomab I131
Trade Name
Epigenetics Modifiers
Cell Signaling Inhibitors
Approved Indication
Certain lymphomas
Certain lymphomas
Generic Name
Trade Name
Approved Indication Generic Name
Kidney cancer
Kidney cancer; soft
tissue sarcomas;
gastrointestinal stromal
Kidney cancer
Gastrointestinal stromal sunitinib
tumors; kidney cancer;
some pancreatic cancers
Thyroid cancer
Colorectal cancer
Trade Name
Cell Signaling Inhibitors
Approved Indication Generic Name
Lung cancer
Some leukemias
Some lung cancers
Some pancreatic
cancers; kidney cancer;
non-cancerous kidney
tumors; HER2+ breast
Lung cancer
Some leukemias;
Stomach cancer; certain
type of skin cancer
HER2+ breast cancers lapatinib
Some leukemias
Kidney cancer
Thyroid cancer
Certain type of
skin cancer
Angiogenesis Inhibitors
Approved Indication
Colon cancer; head
and neck cancer
Colon cancer
HER2+ breast cancer
HER2+ breast cancer
Generic Name
Trade Name
Diagnostic Antibodies
Approved Indication
Imaging prostate
Generic Name
capromab pendetide
Trade Name
Generic Name
Trade Name
Generic Name
Trade Name
Immune Stimulator
Approved Indication
Metastasis Inhibitor
Approved Indication
Bone metastases
Trade Name
Gleevec; Glivec
Toricel; Torisel
** mechanism is not completely clear.
Some drugs are available in multiple formulations, these have only been listed once.
Where multiple trade names are used, only the most common have been listed.
American Association for Cancer Research
Table 7: Surgical and Radiotherapy Advances
Surgical Advances
Used to Treat
Breast cancer
Breast cancer
Testicular cancer
Multiple head, neck and
chest cancers
Variety of abdominal cancers
Sarcoma and other cancers
Kidney cancer
Pancreatic cancer
Stomach-sparing pancreatic
surgery for pancreatic cancer
Rectal cancer
Prostate cancer
Rectal cancer
Testicular cancer
Breast, melanoma, and
colorectal cancers
Breast cancer, laryngeal cancer,
and anal/rectal cancer
Multiple cancers
Radiotherapy Advances
Used to Treat
Prostate, cervical, other cancers
Multiple cancers
Brain and some lung cancers
Multiple cancers
Head and neck cancers;
prostate cancer
Rectal cancer
Prostate cancer
Pediatric, thoracic, and
prostate cancers
Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic
Surgery (VATS)
Laparoscopic surgery
Reconstructive and limb-sparing
Partial nephrectomy
The Whipple/modified
Whipple procedure
Total mesorectal excision
Nerve-sparing prostatectomy
Transanal Endoscopic
Microsurgery (TEM)
Modified retroperitoneal
lymph node dissection
Sentinel lymph node biopsies
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy
Robotic or computer-assisted
Computer-guided radiation
therapy (cyber knife)
Stereotactic radio surgery
(gamma knife)
Adjuvant/simultaneous radiotherapy
Intensity Modulated Radiation
Therapy (IMRT)
Neoadjuvant radio/chemotherapy
Adjuvant radiotherapy
Proton Therapy
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2012
615 Chestnut Street, 17th Floor • Philadelphia, PA 19106-4404 • 215-440-9300 • [email protected] • www.aacr.org
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