Diagnostics & Imaging Week Washington Editor

WASHINGTON – Slowly, surely, the "war on cancer" is being fought and won. And the lead role of diagnostic imaging in this battle was highlighted in a joint briefing session by US Oncology (Houston) and the National Electric Manufacturers Association (Arlington, Virginia).

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) opened the session by remarking that cancer "ought to be an important topic to everybody." It obviously is to him since he explained how he had survived cancer while in the Army and that the service wanted to give him a medical discharge upon discovering the diagnosis.

However, the "C word" prompted much more fear in the past than it does now. "I had to go through an appeals process to stay in the Army," he said.

Roy Beveridge, MD, co-director of the bone marrow transplant program at Inova Fairfax Hospital (Fairfax, Virginia), remarked that "oncology is one of the fastest-changing specialties in medicine," largely due to the influence of radiographic technology as well as advances in pharmaceutical science.

Citing figures offered by the American Cancer Society (ACS: Atlanta), Beveridge said that almost 4,000 Americans are diagnosed each day with cancer and that, at present, 10 million living Americans have survived cancer. The figure 30 years ago was roughly 3 million.

Among the cancer statistics provided were that almost 1.4 million American men and women are likely to be diagnosed with cancer during 2006, and that more than 560,000 will lose their lives to cancer this year.

Breast cancer alone will account for almost 213,00 of those diagnoses and more than 40,000 fatalities.

At the meeting was Joe Hogan, president and CEO of GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin), who described his company's efforts in bringing to market digital tomosynthesis, a technology designed to improve detection of breast tumors.

Digital tomosynthesis employs conventional X-rays beamed from an overhead arc to derive a more complete set of images and requires less pressure on the breast to obtain a complete set of scans. Thus it targets three issues related to conventional breast imaging: discomfort due to compression, tumors secreted in overlapping tissue, and a limited number of views. The information is recorded digitally, allowing the use of the latest algorithms to analyze any images of suspect tissues. The machines are expected to displace roughly the same area as the firm's full-field digital mammography systems.

The FDA has not yet cleared the device, but Hogan said he expected the technology to be commercially available "within the next two to three years." The device's regulatory status prevented him from discussing the probable price tag for the machines.

Overall, medical imaging is thought not only to improve diagnosis, but also enhance medical and surgical management of cancers by early detection and by improving differential diagnoses.

Beveridge said he was not concerned about the risk of overly aggressive treatment of breast cancer caused by improved diagnostic tools, because "we have very good algorithms" to establish the origin and likely course of breast cancers.

Lung cancer 'blueprint' legislation praised

Unveiled during the recent Lung Cancer Alliance Advocacy Conference, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) introduced S.Res. 408 for Senate consideration. Congressman Clay Shaw (R-Florida) introduced H.Res. 739, a similar resolution, in the House of Representatives. Both resolutions ask President George Bush to declare lung cancer a national public health priority.

Laurie Fenton, president of The Lung Cancer Alliance (Washington), praised the legislation as historic, saying that for the first time "we have the House and Senate recognizing that lung cancer is not a political issue, rather, it's a major public health epidemic affecting smokers and non-smokers. This must be addressed as a disease – not a punishment."

The bipartisan effort calls for a 50% reduction in lung cancer's high mortality rate by 2015. It lays out multi-agency action emphasizing the need for a coordinated approach among federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Defense.

The Lung Cancer Alliance emphasizes that lung cancer "is under-funded and under-researched. Only $1,829 is spent per lung cancer death, the least amount of cancer research dollars per death for the nation's leading cancer killer. By comparison, breast cancer research receives $23,474 per estimated death, and prostate cancer receives $14,369."

Hagel's state will be the first in the nation to initiate a statewide screening program for lung cancer.

"Over 900 Nebraskans will die from lung cancer in 2006," he said. "We have made great advances in breast and prostate cancer survival rates. We must commit ourselves to making the same progress in lung cancer."

Senator Clinton noted that lung cancer is now killing nearly twice as many women as breast cancer and that despite gains in cancer treatment, "we have made far too little progress in addressing lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in our nation."

Shaw, a lung cancer survivor, has been a leading spokesman for lung cancer in the House of Representatives. Recently he sent a letter signed by 73 members of both parties of the House asking the National Cancer Institute about its 2015 target for "ending the pain and death from all cancer."

"That cannot be done," said Shaw, "if we continue to under-fund research and early diagnosis in the biggest cancer killer."