Unacceptable excesses in the cancer-drug charges that major hospitals bill to patients (see above) are, fortunately, only a part of the cancer-treatment picture. Although many cancers still resist a cure, doctors and patients now have more options and a greater understanding of the disease than ever.
Dramatic proof came over the weekend with online publication in the journal Nature of a path-breaking study led in good part by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers.
As a New York Times report put it, In findings that are fundamentally reshaping the scientific understanding of breast cancer, researchers have identified four genetically distinct types of the cancer. And within those types, they have found hallmark genetic changes that are driving many cancers.
The results, in time, could include new breast cancer treatments, some using drugs already approved for use in other cancers. And with treatment increasingly targeting specific variations of the disease, the new study described as the first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer offers information that could lead to even more precise treatments.
In a vast research effort, involving federal and private funding and hundreds of researchers, its perhaps unfair to single out one scientist or institution, but Dr. Charles Perou of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center is the studys lead author, and much of the work and analysis was done at UNC as part of the national Cancer Genome Atlas.
Its a reminder of the significant growth in recent years of the medical research establishments at Chapel Hill and at Duke University, and of the importance the work holds. How important? According to the studys co-leader, Dr. Matthew J.C. Ellis, of Washington University in St. Louis, the results are the breast cancer equivalent of putting a man or woman on the moon. A gain of that magnitude in understanding cancer is at least a partial antidote for the mystifying realities of our existing, near-dysfunctional system of paying for medical treatments.