ecancermedicalscience

Special Issue

The molecular understanding of cancer: from the unspeakable illness to a curable disease

8 Jun 2017
Marco A Pierotti

The beginning of our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer and the discovery in the 1980s of cancer associated genes, oncogenes, and tumour suppressor genes has led to cancer becoming a treatable condition rather than an unspeakable disease. In 1971, the then USA President, Richard Nixon, declared ‘war against cancer’ with a far too optimistic perspective of winning in just a few years. This tactic failed because our knowledge of the disease was still very limited and even its origin—viral or due to exposure to external agents—was still highly debated. A better understanding of the cause(s) of the origin of cancer led to its definition as a genetic disease at the somatic level and heralded a new era for molecular diagnosis and the development of more mechanistic evidence-based, targeted cancer therapies. However, the initial positive results were soon overshadowed by a major limitation of targeted agents, namely resistance mechanisms, which still represent an obstacle for the full eradication of the disease. More recently, effective therapeutic approaches have been developed in the field of ‘immunotherapy’. The combination of novel therapies will hopefully result in effective cancer growth control and make the disease ‘chronic’. The launch of the ‘Moonshot Cancer Program’ by President Barack Obama aims to significantly reduce cancer deaths in the next decade—let us see.

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