2022 FUND-A-NEED: Early Detection Research
EARLY DETECTION RESEARCH
Why It Matters and Why It Matters Now
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic of the last two years, it is estimated that 25% fewer cancers were detected due to missed screening appointments. This decrease has reinforced the importance of early detection as cancers detected early are easier to treat and have increased rates of survival.
As research brings us to a better understanding of how cancers develop, and as we develop new technologies, we can envision a new era of cancer treatment where we rethink both cancer prevention and early detection as parts of an overall cancer treatment effort.
Preventive and early detection efforts are multi-fold. Reducing or preventing bodily exposures to cancer causing agents is one approach. Screening procedures to detect cancer at its earliest stages is another and includes colonoscopies for colon cancer among others. Colorectal cancers are often asymptomatic, diagnosed at late stages, and entirely preventable through screening. Early detection research efforts include improvements in liquid biopsy, imaging techniques, at-home test kits, and identification of early warning signs of cancer.
A primary research goal for many years has been to identify biological markers, called biomarkers, that indicate the presence of cancer in the body. Identifying cancers at their earliest stage provides the opportunity for medical interventions to reduce risk or treat cancer most effectively before it metastasizes, or spreads. Early intervention increases the chances for long-term patient survival as a majority of cancer deaths occur in patients whose cancer has spread. Biomarkers are also valuable in distinguishing between cancerous lesions and lesions that are benign, targeting treatment and avoiding unnecessary side effects.
Some cancers arise from genetic changes induced by viral infection. Research to understand which viruses are responsible creates options for prevention, including reducing/eliminating exposure to the pathogen, developing vaccines, and early treatment strategies before a cancer can evolve. These examples illustrate that early detection research makes a difference in the population at large as well as cancer patients for whom early detection can make the difference between life and death.