Can America Cure Cancer?

By Memorial Sloan Kettering,

Thursday, January 14, 2016


President Obama’s proposal during the State of the Union address for a “moonshot” to cure cancer reflects the ambitious goal of scientists and government officials to conquer the disease. MSK researchers maintain that, while a cure is unlikely to happen soon, there are good reasons to be optimistic that huge gains will be made in the near future to slow or stop many forms of the disease.

Update: That spirit of optimism took the global stage on January 19, when MSK Physician-in-Chief José Baselga and physician-scientist Charles Sawyers joined Vice President Biden and a distinguished group of academic experts and other leaders for a roundtable discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The panel discussed potential opportunities to advance the fight against cancer. They identified cutting-edge areas of research and care that hold the most promise and discussed how technological innovation and data science advancements could speed the pace of progress.
Dr. Baselga emphasized the dominant role of the huge amounts of data being generated by genetic screening, which must be analyzed to provide insights into the mutations that drive different types of cancer. Dr. Sawyers is spearheading a new initiative called Project GENIE, a multicenter venture that aims to find better ways to interpret this abundance of information.
Dr. Sawyers also suggested that the FDA could allow accelerated approvals for combination therapies, which are becoming more common as researchers identify cancer pathways that can be blocked by targeted therapies.
The experts also discussed the potential of exciting new technologies, such as the gene-editing tool CRISPR, and nanotechology, which can provide better ways to image tumors and potentially deliver therapies to precise locations.
“The vice president’s passion and commitment to accelerating progress against cancer is palpable,” said Dr. Sawyers. “Meeting him in person and hearing him speak convinced me that he will not let go of this challenge. I was impressed by what he has already learned about cancer research — what a great champion for the cause.”

Original Post: During Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech, President Obama referred to Vice President Biden’s ambitious plan to cure cancer. He called the notion a “moonshot,” referencing the Apollo 11 spaceflight project, where American scientists focused all of their efforts to put the first human on the moon in 1969. “It is a comparison,” points out Memorial Sloan Kettering Physician-in-Chief José Baselga, “that comes to show that this is an ambitious goal.”
“For many years we lamented the relative spending cuts that the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute have endured that sometimes limited our ability to make the fastest possible progress,” says Clifford Hudis, Vice President for Government Relations and Chief Advocacy Officer at MSK. “With this new initiative, we should see increased resources and even better coordination and collaboration to help accelerate the development of new treatments and better outcomes for patients.”
This is big beyond the moonshot, like shooting at the whole universe at the same time.
José Baselga
José Baselga Physician-In-Chief

The idea of “curing” cancer is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s 1971 declaration of a multimillion dollar “War on Cancer” that was supposed to have conquered the disease within ten years. That didn’t happen.

We now know that cancer is far more complex than we originally thought — and is in fact not one disease but many, with myriad ways to circumvent our most potent therapeutic arrows. “This is big, beyond the moonshot,” notes Dr. Baselga, “like shooting at the whole universe at the same time. There are so many hundreds of tumor types. It is so complex that, more than a moonshot, I would say this is a galactic effort.”

Can America realistically cure cancer once and for all? Considering the complexity of the issue, likely not for all forms of cancer. Yet there are reasons to be optimistic that greatly reducing the burden of cancer is within our grasp, especially with the rapid progress in areas like immunotherapy and gene sequencing. “This could be the decade in which we aren’t going to cure all cancer,” says Dr. Baselga, “but we can really decrease by a lot the number of patients that die from cancer.” Dr. Hudis adds, “The advances we seek don’t all have to be cures to be truly transformative for millions of patients and their families.”

Immunotherapy for advanced melanoma, for example, has transformed a disease that just a few years ago was almost a sure death sentence into one that in many cases can be cured — or at least put into remission for a decade or more. These therapeutic breakthroughs — many of them spearheaded at MSK — have given people new hope that curing at least some types of cancer is indeed within reach. In the next decade, through continued support of research, we will likely see the gains witnessed in melanoma extended to other cancer types. 

“I think this ought to be our decade, a decade that we move forward in a way that has never been seen in the history of medicine,” Dr. Baselga says.


I have personally asked a Dr and graduate research Student at MSK
Why don't you have clinical trials using cannabis oil?
I'd like to see this research studi d at MSK.

Susan, thank you for your comment. We often receive questions about marijuana or cannabis oil. Gary Deng of MSK's Integrative Medicine Service offers this statement (April 2015):

“There are a few laboratory studies and a case report of cannabis oil suggesting it may have anti-cancer activity. But there is no good clinical data supporting its efficacy as cancer treatment. We kept track of a few patients who used it on their own. None of them had tumor shrinkage. It is also not without side effects. Its use is not advisable.”

Immunotherapy is a great advance, if your not a candidate for it and not one of the 20% that it helps ...well your still waiting and hoping something will come along in time!

Thank you for your comment. Immunotherapy is only one of the new ways that researchers at MSK and elsewhere are fighting cancer. Here are a few others you may be interested to learn about, from recent stories on our blog.

Proton therapy:…

Epigenetic therapy:

Targeted therapy and basket studies:…

In 9184 was treated with surgery & Brachy therapy radiation . I am know 66 years old relatively in good health . Thanks to Msk .

Dear Maria, we are glad to know you are doing well. Thanks for sharing your experience!

I have upper gi esophageal cancer l live in the uk at the moment l am having chemo and it seems to be shrinking the tumour will know better end of February just want to know if immune therapy will be any good for me been diagnosed withT3N2M1(bone)squamous cell I am fit and well no weight loss and eating as normal

Colin, there are several different forms of immunotherapy that are being studied for esophageal cancer in clinical trials. To find one near you in the UK, we recommend you speak with your doctors or go to, a database maintained by the US National Institutes of Health that includes trials all over the world. Best wishes to you, and thank you for your comment.

What is anyone doing about the harsh side effects of Chemo? We are destroying healthy cells and causing terrible quality of life issues with many current chemo treatments. We need to better for patients suffering. What is on the near horizon?

Dear Angela, we and other cancer centers are working hard to come up with new, more-targeted cancer treatments that result in fewer side effects. For example, we are now able to customize care using treatments that precisely match the genomic profile of a patient; we are using a DNA sequencing to guide therapy for patients with advanced disease, regardless of their tumor type; and new immune-based therapies are stimulating our immune system to fight cancer.

In addition, the quality of life of cancer survivors is a research priority at MSK, and support and rehabilitation resources are being made available to help people who experience side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, from nausea and hair loss to neuropathic pain and memory problems.

You may be interested in reading more about why we are optimistic about the future of cancer care here:

Thank you for your comment.

I am glad to hear that progress is being made for a cure! I am curious to hear about the cure for brain cancer in particular. My husband was recently diagnosed with oligodendroglioma and has had 2 craniotomies in the past year. I'd love to receive some additional information.

It's extremely laudable that this session took place. Since it involved world leaders in oncology, I do hope that Prof. Eduardo Cazap was invited to participate. The impact he has made in South America and the Latin America countries is remarkable, and his insights can help shape the future treatment paradigms for third-world and developing countries.

My mum has an invasive high grade tumor which had grown into the bladder wall. Her doctor suggests a bladder removal with urostomy. I heard about hole punching,Can Mskcc save her bladder. Please reply urgently

Dear Zaheera, we are sorry to hear about your mother's diagnosis. We are not able to make personal medical recommendations online. If your mother would like make an appointment to consult with one of our specialists an assessment of her disease and personalized treatment recommendations, please have her call our Physician Referral Service at 800-225-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

First of all, the word "Cancer" actually is a descriptive term for hundreds of conditions, many of which share common genetic profiles. So to speak of a "cure" for cancer would mean a cure for all of these different conditions. The goal as I see it is to develop treatments that significantly hamper the viability of the numerous cancers, e.g. targeted gene therapy. Of course, I believe that for many of the cancers a "cure" is probable, while with others long term remission or lack of disease progression is not only within reach but happening as we speak.

I emailed Dr Glickman a question about my bladder cancer 3 weeks ago . It was about 9 pm. He returned my email within a half an hour. He is truly an asset to your hospital. That is unheard today God bless Him and His work. If I have to have my bladder removed I certainly will go to MSK

Donald, thank you for your kind words! We will pass your comment on to Dr. Glickman.

I have now been a patient at MSK for three years. Being in stage four I felt hopeless for some time, but the doctors have been amazing. The care I've been given inpatient and outpatient was outstanding. After 17 months of chemo, 2 surgeries, and a year of immunotherapy, I've been off treatment for three months and I'm very hopeful/grateful. I may not be cured but being I live a normal life, and am healthier than most people without cancer. Thank you for everything MSK!

Dear Luis, we are glad to know that you have felt well-cared for by your treatment team at MSK. Thank you for your kind words! If you are interested in sharing your experience and engaging with other people who are faced with a similar diagnosis, please consider joining our online community of patients and caregivers called "Connections". Here is the link to learn more: We wish you all our best for continued good quality of life.

How long can you stay on Lupron? I've been taking q3 month injection for 3 years for granulosa cell tumor ovarian cancer & it shrunk my tumors, but now I read about Alzeimers in patients on Lupron so I don't know what's best?

Dear Ginny, every patient has unique circumstances and responds to therapy differently. It's best to check with your oncologist to discuss any concerns you may have about the risks versus benefits of taking Lupron. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I am a three time survivor of Leiomiosarcoma over 19 years. I've had three major surgeries, chemo, hair loss, lymphadema, and general fear, plus metastasized lung cancer which is cured. Dr. Yoon was my last surgeon at MSK three years ago. Since then I've been in remission and feeling good. Is there any new targeted therapies to treat this tumor if it returns? I am taking AFINITOR every day, and have had very minor side effects.

Dear Ellen, we are glad to hear that you are in remission and feeling well. We would suggest that you contact your MSK oncologist to discuss what your treatment options would be if your particular cancer returns. Fear of recurrence is certainly common among many cancer survivors. If you are interested in learning about ways to manage those concerns, you can read more here:

Thank you for reaching out to us.

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