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HEALTH REPORT – February 12, 2003: Surviving Cancer - 2003-02-11

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The American Cancer Society says one-million-three-hundred-thousand Americans develop cancer every year. Doctors say many cancer patients are living longer today than in the past. Sixty-two percent of cancer patients in the United States now survive five years after learning they have the disease. In the nineteen-eighties, only fifty-two percent were alive after five years.

About nine-million Americans are cancer survivors. Some survivors do not show any signs of the disease. They are cured of cancer. But about one-million Americans with cancer are able to live generally normal lives. Their cancer is under control because they are taking new kinds of drugs.

Scientists were able to develop these new drugs because of the increased knowledge of genetics in recent years. Scientists created these drugs to target the genetic defects that make cells cancerous. One such drug is called Gleevec. Doctors mainly use Gleevec to treat a cancer of the blood called chronic myelogenous (my-a-LOE-jen-us) leukemia. This disease destroys the ability of the body to produce healthy blood cells.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration approved Gleevec in two-thousand-one. It is the first drug that directly turns off the signal of a protein known to cause a kind of cancer. The F-D-A also has approved drugs that interfere with proteins linked to other cancers. But those drugs do not affect the proteins directly responsible for a disease, as Gleevec does.

Another new drug is called Revimid. It is being used in special studies to treat people with the blood cancer called multiple myeloma. This cancer attacks a kind of white blood cell found in bone marrow. As the cancer grows, it destroys normal bone tissue. Some patients are taking Revimid because other drugs are no longer effective. Revimid appears to lower the resistance of the disease to treatment. Patients taking this drug do not seem to suffer as many unpleasant side effects as with other drugs.

Many patients and their doctors are thankful that new drugs are helping cancer survivors stay alive. Some experts, however, express concern. They say scientists should make a greater effort to develop permanent cancer cures. One expert said the most important goal in cancer research should be to prevent the disease.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.