M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: August 2010
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Research plays a vital role in achieving MD Anderson’s mission of eliminating cancer. Through research, scientists learn more about how cancer cells work…and knowing how these cells behave helps us find better ways to fight cancer or stop it from developing in the first place.
Recent research is yielding new kinds of drugs, called targeted molecular therapies that can specifically target cancer cells without harming normal cells. Promising treatments are explored in laboratory studies, sometimes in animal research, before they are tested in people. These treatments must then go through several phases of testing in carefully controlled human clinical trials, before the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approves them as safe and standard treatments. Each year, more than 11,000 patients at MD Anderson are enrolled in clinical trials. The different levels of testing are conducted in Phase I, II, III and IV clinical trials.
The goal of a Phase I study is to find the safest maximum dose that the patient can receive without experiencing harmful side effects. A Phase II clinical trial is a study to determine the effectiveness of a treatment…how well it works to fight a certain type of cancer. A Phase III trial seeks to find out whether a new treatment is better than the standard treatment. Phase IV trials are studies which find out additional information about treatments that already have been approved for use in patients.
The successes of today’s clinical trials result in improved therapies for cancer patients. More and more people are surviving cancer and living longer. National Cancer Institute studies have found that more than 60% of adults who are diagnosed with cancer today will be alive in five years. Many cancer patients are living years beyond that, and the numbers of survivors continue to increase.
As some survivors actually live their normal life spans with cancer as a chronic disease, these increased survival rates bring challenges. Researchers are beginning to address not only the physical aspects of cancer treatment and side effects but also the emerging issues of long-term survivorship.
First, chemotherapy and radiation treatments produce toxicities, which sometimes result in long-term health effects. Depending on the type of cancer, a patient might experience some degree of pain and fatigue; infertility and sexual dysfunction, and learning and memory problems.
Also, there might be emotional and psychological ups and downs related to fear of recurrence, a second malignancy or even death. And…the financial costs of cancer treatment, along with potential job-related problems, are issues for many patients and families.
The important thing for survivors to remember is that there are many resources, including survivor organizations, available to help. Also, there is legislation aimed at protecting survivors from discrimination in the workplace and clarifying patients’ rights concerning insurance issues.
While eliminating cancer continues to be MD Anderson’s overriding mission, the Cancer Center remains dedicated to preserving quality of life both during treatment and beyond and finding new ways of making survivorship better for all patients.
From research that improves our understanding of cancer and how to treat it, all the way to life beyond cancer – this is the full spectrum of our work. Take a moment to learn more about research, clinical trials and survivorship by visiting the “Learn more about” section on the right side of this page. When you’re ready, we can continue the tour. Just click the link below.
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© 2010 The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
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