Cancer patients have good reason to be optimistic, according to Dr. Allen Lichter, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), an international organization of physicians specializing in cancer research, prevention and treatment.
“The five-year survival rate approaches 90 percent for newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer," said Lichter, speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women at the West Bloomfield “The progress is steady and inexorable, and we continue to make great strides.”
Lichter attributes this progress to the burgeoning use of targeted drugs and technological advances that allow research data and other information to be rapidly shared throughout a worldwide network of patients and medical professionals.
“He was a very informative speaker; he was very clear," said Marcie Paul of West Bloomfield, a two-year survivor of late-stage ovarian cancer.
Paul is part of a group that makes presentations to medical students and community groups to increase awareness about ovarian cancer.
“Diagnosis is very difficult,” said Paul. “We try to put a face to the disease.”
Lichter spoke about the importance of clinical trials and predictive tests when using targeted drugs, especially since many of these drugs can be very expensive.
He said that cancer drugs comprise the most rapidly increasing category of health care costs.
“If you can learn from every patient, you can make faster progress,” said Lichter, who added that only about 3 percent of cancer patients partake in clinical trials for new drugs.
He said the medical profession is moving toward the use of a Rapid-Learning Health Care system that includes a central case registry and electronic data sharing.
The use of genomic-based research and treatment, which can result in more effective care and lower costs, is also increasing, he said.
Lichter said he believed that some of the upcoming health care reform changes will be specifically beneficial for cancer patients and for those wishing to avoid the disease through preventive exams.
Co-payments will be eliminated for screening procedures such as mammographies and colonoscopies, and lifetime caps for certain treatments will be removed. There will also be a closing of the “doughnut hole,” the prescription drug coverage gap that affects Medicare recipients.
Cancer Thrivers group offers sense of solidarity
About 240 people, including survivors and supporters, attended the luncheon, which was the first official Cancer Thrivers fundraiser. Patti Nemer, one of the organization’s founding members, said a fundraising event was necessary so that the group could continue its educational programming without charging membership dues.
“We feel these people have already paid their dues,” said Nemer, a cancer thriver who lives in West Bloomfield.
The group is based on the concept that cancer patients can go beyond mere survival to lead thriving lives enhanced by friendship, activities, education and humor. Membership is open to individuals diagnosed with any kind of cancer at any stage of life, as well as to those who support the patients and the cause.
One-on-one mentoring and other resources are also available through the Cancer Resource Connection at
“Hopefully, the computer age will make it easier to obtain and spread information,” said Judy Cantor of West Bloomfield, who came the event to support Nemer, a longtime friend. “They should have more events like this.”