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Turning The Tide

By Bernie Machen, President and by Win Phillips, Vice President for Research

It has happened so subtly over the last few decades that you might not have realized that we’re finally starting to win the battle against cancer.

But the numbers tell the tale. Total cancer deaths have been falling by a couple of percentage points every year since peaking in the early 1990s, according to the National Cancer Institute. Overall cancer death rates declined 18.4 percent for men between 1990 and 2004 and 10.5 percent for women between 1991 and 2004. That’s more than half a million people who would have died during that period but did not.

Some of the most dramatic decreases have been in lung and prostate cancer for men and breast and uterine cancer for women. The news is even better for children. The five-year survival rate among children with cancer has improved from 58 percent for patients diagnosed between 1975 and 1977 to 80 percent for patients diagnosed between 1996 and 2003.

But, the decline in cancer deaths doesn’t mean the disease is going away. Instead, doctors are starting to treat it more as a chronic disease than a terminal disease.

Researchers and doctors at the University of Florida and Shands HealthCare have long pursued ways to continue cancer’s downward trend, but this year, they gained a uniquely powerful ally: the Tampa-based H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

In January, UF announced a new partnership with Moffitt designed to harness the combined critical mass of our two institutions to reach a new level of success in cancer diagnosis, treatment and research.

As you’ll read in these pages, the UF-Moffitt-Shands partnership is multipronged, from basic research on how cells work to drug and vaccine development and the importance of patient-centered care.
As much potential as it has, the partnership is only the latest development in the university’s cancer research efforts.

Other examples include:

• The $84-million, 280-square-foot Cancer and Genetics Research Complex opened in late 2006. By bringing dozens of cancer researchers into one state-of-the-art facility, we hope to spur collaborations that speed the rate of discovery.
• A $388-million, 500,000-square-foot cancer hospital scheduled to open in 2009. As you’ll read, the new hospital will serve as a haven for patients, who will each have a private room.
• The $125-million, 98,000-square-foot Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville, one of only five of these next-generation radiation treatment facilities in the country. This new technology promises to zap cancer cells while doing minimal damage to surrounding health tissue.
After years of struggling just to figure out how cancer worked, doctors now have tools that allow them to diagnose the disease much earlier and treat it much more precisely.
Shands’ slogan is “The Science of Hope,” and that’s exactly what patients should have thanks to these new technologies.