This year marks the 50th anniversary of the “War on Cancer,” launched when President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971. As America commemorates the milestone, the question for the future is: “Where do we go from here?” At Memorial Sloan Kettering, the direction is clear: stopping the spread of cancer.
Cancer spread, or metastasis, is the cause of 90 percent of cancer deaths. No improvements in surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy will meaningfully boost survival statistics unless scientists are also able to finally stop cancer’s recurrence or tackle it once it spreads.
“We are committed to solving the mystery of metastasis,” says Sloan Kettering Institute Director Joan Massagué. “We’ve made great strides in understanding the fundamental biology of the process, and new breakthroughs are on the horizon.”
Recent advances include discovering that metastatic cells co-opt the body’s natural wound-healing pathways to hide from the immune system, resist chemotherapy, and take root in new locations. The tumors these cells produce are quite different from the original and much more difficult to eradicate. But knowing their reliance on these pathways opens up new avenues of treatment.
Like all medical breakthroughs, these advances are being driven by fundamental research that requires dedication, resources, and a respect for the scientific process.
“It is gratifying to see the role of scientists elevated in the new administration,” says Dr. Massagué, noting the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is now a cabinet-level position. “President Biden lost his son to brain cancer and has led the Cancer Moonshot initiative. We are hopeful for more support of rigorously conducted research that has the potential to benefit us all.”
The next issue of MSK News will be devoted to explaining the critical work being done throughout MSK to forge a new frontier in the War on Cancer. •