Progress against cancer

KSU researchers make early detection more likely

By The Mercury

Cancer is an insidious disease, as is achingly apparent to those who suffer from it as well as their loved ones. Americans who don’t know someone who has cancer or who has died from some form of it are in a small minority.

The battle against cancer has been going on for decades, with research worldwide focusing on many fronts, including the search for cures, causes, ways to extend lives and ways to detect it at its earliest stages so that its advance can be stopped before it has a chance to ruin or even end lives.

One of the places vital research is being done is the Johnson Cancer Research Center at K-State. Scientists there have achieved the sort of breakthrough that can help identify some of the most common types of cancer even before patients suspect anything is wrong.

As was reported in Tuesday’s Mercury, Stefan Bossman, a chemistry professor, and Deryl Troyer, an anatomy and physiology professor, have developed a blood test that in less than an hour can detect breast cancer and the most common type of lung cancer before patients begin to suffer symptoms such as weight loss or coughing. The two researchers also seem confident about similar progress against pancreatic cancer. Both scientists are affiliated with KSU’s Johnson Cancer Center as well as the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Their testing data have been analyzed by KSU statistics professor Gary Gadbury and has been submitted for accelerated testing.

The likely beneficiaries are people who are considered at risk of developing cancer — individuals from families with a history of cancer and, especially for lung cancer, heavy smokers. They could have their blood tested annually or even quarterly, and if cancer is detected, proceed with appropriate diagnostic measures.

“The problem,” as Dr. Bossman said, “is that nobody knows they’re in stage 1. There is often not a red flag to warn that something is wrong. Meanwhile, the person is losing critical time.”

That matters immensely; more than 160,000 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer this year and almost 40,000 more will die from breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Drs. Troyer and Bossman will continue their research, as will their peers in numerous other hospitals and laboratories, in a collective effort to remove cancer from among mankind’s most dreaded diseases.

Dr. Troyer acknowledged that he and Dr. Bossman regard their progress “as the first step into a new arena of investigation that could eventually lead to improved early detection of human cancers.”

It is through countless such steps that cancer might one day be overcome.

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