What is the Cancer Moonshot?

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In a nutshell, it is a commitment that USA President Obama made to accelerate cancer research, with a cure as the ultimate goal. He appointed USA Vice President Joe Biden to take the lead on the Cancer Moonshot initiative, and they have committed “to double the rate of progress toward a cure [and] to make a decade worth of advances in five years” (the White House).

Pretty ambitious, right? But doable with the right things in place. The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center put together this infographic to explain what’s happening and what this will mean for cancer patients in the next 5 years. Rare cancers have a lot to gain from the Moonshot because of its unique approach. If you’re interested in learning more about mesothelioma and what causes it, check out their page on this deadly cancer.

cancer moonshot infographic

Here are my thoughts on the Cancer Moonshot initiative.

1 – Collaboration is key.

There are many different types of scientists, researchers, and medical professionals involved in cancer care and cancer research. Often these different groups of people do their job in isolation and there isn’t a lot of talk across professions and fields. I’m happy to see that Joe Biden has said “you have genomicists working with the oncologists, working with virologists, working with chemical and biological engineers, working with immunotherapy” (npr.org) because I really think collaboration will be the key to unlocking a cure.

2 – Networks of researchers worldwide are imperative, not just within the USA.

I worked exclusively with patients with head and neck cancer in the first six years of my career as a health professional, and still continue to dabble in the area now.  I had the privilege and opportunity to work with world-class surgeons and oncologists at the forefront of head and neck cancer research from Canada, the USA, Finland, and Germany. The round table discussions with these hugely influential and highly acclaimed professionals were absolutely fascinating. I learned that culture plays a big role in how certain treatments become more the norm in some places versus other places. The same diagnosis could be treated completely differently in one place to the next – and the question would be – why? How do they decide which is the “right” treatment? So it really is imperative to look beyond USA, Canada, and North America, to understand what and why other countries are doing things differently.

3 – Fields outside of “traditional western medicine” need to be considered.

As U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said, “Immunotherapy was some voodoo science six, eight years ago.” (npr.org). But now it’s taken the stage in the scientific community. Maybe  surgery, radiation and chemotherapy aren’t the only effective treatments for cancer. Maybe there is some value in the natural and alternative health approaches out there that are usually shunned by the medical community. Having become more aware of some of these approaches over the last few years, I am starting to see how important and powerful they can be – and we need to make sure that their potential is harnessed for the effective treatment of cancer.

4 – People are still people, even if they’re patients.

When you see many people with similar diagnoses, it can be easy to see them as lumped together in a group, and cancer treatments are often prescribed that way. If you have this and this, you get this and this, just like the other guy who had this and this. What may be lost is the individuality of each of these people. Every person will react differently to the same treatments. Sure, they may experience similar symptoms, and usually we see these symptoms on a spectrum. But each person is experiencing it in their own way, and their physical reactions may also be indicative of the emotional and psychological impact of cancer. And what about how much support they have around them? This leads into my next point…

5 – Cancer isn’t just a physical disease.

We’re starting to see that a tumor has a complex development and typically grows because of a variety of factors, and one of them can be stress. Emotional and psychological health can definitely play a role in the development and the successful treatment and rehabilitation of a person with cancer. I would hope that the involvement of mental health professionals should be a given in cancer treatment, just like the involvement of a surgeon, or an oncologist already are.

Check out this interview with Joe Biden on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert about the Cancer Moonshot!

So what can you do to support the Cancer Moonshot? This post from the Huffington Post is a great resource help you figure out what you can do to help. Read more about how the National Cancer Institute is involved here and get updates on the newest happenings here.

What are your thoughts on the Cancer Moonshot initiative?