Resistance is also a problem: Similar to the AIDS virus, cancer cells often mutate to outsmart the new drugs. Pharmaceutical companies are already working to stay one step ahead by developing an arsenal of treatments that might be given as cancer cocktails. For example, with CML, two new targeted therapies are available now to treat patients who relapse on Gleevec; several others are in development.
A cure for cancer will probably elude scientists until they better understand what causes the disease. But a new test—the MammaPrint, which predicts how likely breast cancer will reoccur—although still crude, heralds the day we've all been waiting for: when the doctor can say, “This cancer will never kill you” versus “That tumor is aggressive.”
Until then, considering the frenzy of research, cancer patients might ask their doctors if it's appropriate to join a clinical trial (listed at www.cancer.gov ). You could just be on the receiving end of a miracle.
Elizabeth Mitchell is the author of Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing (Hyperion).
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