Target therapy

Medical advancements fueling decline in cancer deaths


Ten years ago, a cancer diagnosis spelled doom for patients, said Donalene Griffin, president of the Moffat County Cancer Society.

"That was the end," Griffin said. "If they got treatment early enough, maybe they had a chance."

Today, the odds of defeating cancer are much greater, American Cancer Society experts contend. As evidence, they point to Cancer Statistics 2007, an annual report released Wednesday.

About 3,014 fewer people died from cancer in 2004 than 2003, signaling the second consecutive year cancer deaths have declined in the U.S., according to the report.

Medical advances, prevention efforts and early screenings have led to the "dramatic, lifesaving dividends," the cancer society said. It's an opinion Jan Fritz, cancer clinical coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, agreed with.

"I would say, generally, that we have better treatments," Fritz said. "But, the key still is prevention and early detection."

She cited target therapies -- treatments that pinpoint and kill cancer cells without harmful side effects -- and more sophisticated diagnostic equipment as progressions that have contributed to improved cancer treatment.

The next groundbreaking innovation in treatment could come with nanotechnology, or using microscopic devices to target cancer cells more accurately.

Still, the enhanced treatment options aren't enough to satisfy cancer-patient advocates like Griffin.

"I think it's improved some," she said. "Not enough, but some. ... I wish we could find a cure. I don't know if we ever will, but I hope we do."

Treating cancer symptoms is only one battlefront to defeating the disease, Craig resident Sherrie Hoefer said. Hoefer, a breast cancer survivor and coordinator of the Craig Cancer Support Group, said the other is maintaining the mind.

She's seen members of the support group lose the fight because they lost hope, or a-once positive attitude.

"Some gave up, some fought it all the way," Hoefer said. "I think a lot of (surviving cancer) is attitude. If you've got a great attitude, you've got a good chance."

The cancer support group is a useful outlet for dealing with the disease, Hoefer said.

"They'll support you, help you with whatever you need," she said. "Talking, crying, the support ... it's all good for you."

The group meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, 745 Russell St. Anywhere from five to 30 people attend the meetings, which are open to anyone affected by cancer.

"If you're going through it, or just had your diagnosis, or just there for support, it doesn't matter," she said. "It's open to anyone."

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or

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