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Cancer: Then and now

When you consider that some of the earliest evidence of cancer was found in mummies in ancient Egypt, it’s understandable that the fight against cancer can seem daunting. It’s been around for a very long time. However, in the later half of the twentieth century modern technology helped scientists make great strides in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, underscoring why supporting cancer research is so important.

In fact, the overall cancer survival rate has increased from 25% in the 1940s to 60% today. That’s thanks to the growth in knowledge about cancer biology, which in turn has led to:

  • Better education about cancer prevention strategies and behavior, such as the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Improved technology for regular screening and earlier detection of cancer, such as mammography, MRI, prostate screening blood tests, colorectal cancer stool tests, genetic screening, etc.
  • Increased variety and success of cancer treatment options, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, less-invasive and more targeted surgical treatments, etc.

Along with increased survival rates, however, cancer diagnoses have increased as well. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer are the top four most diagnosed cancers, and while their survival rates are high, research into better and more effective treatments is still critical.


We currently know quite a bit about cancer. We know that it develops when normal cells start to grow out of control and form new abnormal cells, usually as a result of damaged DNA. We know many causes for damaged DNA, but there is still much research to be done on effectively treating the many varieties of cancer.

For example, there is an urgent need for more research investment into pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all the major cancers at only 8%. The challenge is funding. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 60% of high-priority research projects went unfunded in 2016.

For more information, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website.


Canadian Cancer Society (2017) Advanced Cancer. Accessed April 9, 2018.

Sudhakar, A. (2009) “History of Cancer, Ancient and Modern Treatment Methods.” Journal of Cancer Science and Therapy. Dec 1; 1(2): 1–4.

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