Damon Runyon News

February 7, 2017

By Victoria E.H. Wang, MD, PhD, Damon Runyon Fellow, University of California, San Francisco

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation recently asked some of our current award recipients how cancer will be prevented, diagnosed, and/or treated differently in the future. What can a future cancer patient, say 10-20 years from now, expect to experience? Their responses were fascinating, and over the next few months we will share their visions for the future on this blog.

One of a person’s worst nightmares is to hear a physician utter to a loved one, “You have cancer.”  In the last six months, I have heard this phrase four times: to unsuspecting friends and family, to a six year old boy who could barely comprehend its meaning, and to an uncle who has been, up to now, the paragon of health. 

Once upon a time, these doomed words represented a “death sentence,” the he-who-must-not-be-named Voldemort of medicine.  In the future, I hope cancer will no longer be spoken in hushed whispers or represent a debilitating ailment but merely a challenge or “bump in the road.” 

There will be great hope for cancer patients within the next decade!  Hope that science can automate high-throughput next generation sequencing and drug testing so that each patient’s tumor could be run through a pipeline at diagnosis or at relapse with short turnaround and low cost.  Providers can thus find the most effective treatment combinations upfront for each individual patient, instead of relying on antiquated combinations of toxic chemotherapy with only incremental benefit.  Hope that rational drug design will yield smarter molecules with lower toxicities and improved delivery to the tumor so that needles, IVs, ports, etc. will be a term of the past.  Hope that minimally invasive diagnostic testing through novel imaging modalities or liquid biopsies will detect cancer with exquisite sensitivity so that we can treat the disease before it encroaches on every organ of the body. 

In short, hope that every cancer patient’s survival and quality of life will be much better than they are today… that every patient can look forward to and celebrate the many precious life moments—be it holidays with family and friends, weddings, graduations, baby showers, etc.--and coexist with the disease for a very long time!