South Bend cancer doctors hopeful, realistic about President's pitch

Dr. Thomas Reid meets with a nurse in the oncology ward at Memorial Hospital in South Bend.
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President Obama generated enthusiasm during his State of the Union address when he pitched a plan to cure cancer.

So far, the plan calls for more federal funding for cancer research and increasing the data shared by doctors around the US.

It’s not a question of money, billions are already spent annually on cancer research.

And while doctors have progressed in treating some forms of cancer, others are harder to detect, expensive or simply impossible to remove.
“We need a moon shot in this country to cure cancer,” Vice President Joe Biden said.

Bold words from Biden, who lost a son to a rare form of cancer last year; that message was echoed by President Obama in his State of the Union address.

“Our short term goals are to improve survival. Hopefully, with little to no side effects, and really allow people to have great quality of life. That's the thing that we struggle with all the time,” Dr. Thomas Reid, the medical director for Memorial Hospital’s Regional Cancer Center said.

Doctors and researchers say the struggle includes battling a disease that comes in more than a dozen forms and affects people in vastly different ways. In some cases, the life threatening illness is all but invisible and causes no pain.

“A number of cancers, we don't have any good screening tests. We don't have good screening tests for liver cancer, we don't have good screening tests for pancreas cancer, or even ovarian cancer,” Dr. Reid said.

“There are signals that the cancer cells are producing, but in a lot of cases, we just don't know what those are yet. So, more basic research is needed,” Sharon Stack said.

For years, doctors have tried medication, radiation and chemotherapy, which often leads to painful side effects and leaves the person weaker. Dr. Thomas Reid hopes a future vaccine or even immune therapy can eliminate the need for chemo.

“We ask the immune system to stop being quiet, get turned on and fight the cancer, because typically, cancers are very well controlled early-on by the immune system,” Dr. Reid said.

Stack, who researches both ovarian and oral cancer at the Harper Center, says the president's plan brings promise because it transcends partisanship.

“Curing cancer is something that people of all parties can get behind. Everybody has a family member or a friend, a relative affected by cancer. It's something that breaches political boundaries and really touches everyone,” Stack said.
Lung cancer remains the most deadly form for men and women across the US.
Doctors continue to advise people to not use tobacco or drink in excess to avoid risk of lung or liver cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, stomach cancer is becoming easier to diagnose and treat, while new cases have dropped by nearly two percent every year.

The survival rate is also up. In 1975, only around 15% of stomach cancer patients lived another five years.

In the last five years, the survival rate is close to 30%.