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Extended Interview: Dr. Anna Barker Discusses Cancer Biomarker Research

Dr. Anna Barker, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, discusses how cancer biomarkers -- changes in the body's cells that can indicate cancer -- may improve cancer screening and treatment.

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  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Let's talk about cancer in the future of Americans.

  • DR. BARKER:

    Well, as you know, cancer will take the lives of 1,500 people today; 560,000 people will die from this disease this year; and nearly 1.5 million people will receive a diagnosis of cancer this year. That's really – those statistics are really daunting, but if you look forward into the future, and not that far into the future, 12, 15 years even, we could see an increase of cancer approaching 50 percent in some estimates, certainly in the 30 percent range, and from 30 to 50 percent means an enormous number of increase in cancer cases.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Overall that means how many Americans?

  • DR. BARKER:

    If you look at the number of cancers that are being diagnosed today in terms of new cancer cases, if you do the numbers actually, you could – you could nearly see a doubling of the number of diagnoses in new cancer cases in a reasonably short period of time – 12 to 15 years.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    So we're essentially now looking at one out of three Americans having a cancer diagnosis. You're saying it could go as high as one out of two?

  • DR. BARKER:

    Well, I think the one out of three number will probably hold, but it's that the number of cases per se is going to go up. In other words, the number of cases and number of Americans that get diagnosed with the disease.

    So today about one out of three Americans can expect to get cancer. And if you look at the aging of the population, the number of cancer cases will increase significantly.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Just recently the American Cancer Society put out new numbers, suggesting that mortality was continuing to decrease, particularly in certain cancers. How do we put that story together with the story you're telling us about?

  • DR. BARKER:

    Very exciting, that story, and that is a real decrease, and we believe it will continue to decrease. I think it's a combination of several things – earlier detection of the disease, certainly, and some of the biomarkers that we'll talk about that are being used very effectively. And I think better treatment – if you get earlier diagnosis, you get better treatment and you get better survival. So, you know, I think all these things are beginning to really add up, but ultimately this is all deriving from the science we've been doing over the last nearly 34, 35 years, and it's now starting to really pay off for – for the cancer patient.

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