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Progress made by research : where are we?

A great deal of progress has been made over the past decade in research on the genetic and cellular bases of cancers, leading to the emergence of new and more efficient therapies.

Genetics has led to understanding how genomic mutations of cells transform them into cancerous cells that first escape the immune system intended to eliminate abnormal cells, making them “eternal”, then divide by forming a tumour and, finally, propagate in the organism. Cellular biology has also unravelled certain enigmas of the signalling pathways taken by biochemical messages, between cells and between cells and their environment.

Targeting genetic disorders and cell signalling pathways
These discoveries have deepened insight on carcinogenesis and led to the development of a new approach to cancer therapies: on the one hand as a function of the genetic profiles of patients’ tumours, and on the other by targeting certain genetic disorders and signalling pathways involved in the development of cancers of different organs. Drugs now being developed in this direction target, for example, the modification of a specific gene in certain lung and colorectal cancers, and lymphomas.  

Immunotherapy, or how to help the body defend itself
Other paths are now being explored. Research is focusing in particular on the possibility of modifying the immune system so that it can better identify and destroy cancerous cells: this is called immunotherapy. This type of treatment has already given very positive results for certain breast cancers. Biologists are also studying specific tumour cells, tumour stem cells, and precursors of rare tumours that remain difficult to identify. Success in targeting them is a major challenge for research today.

Major advances have also been made in cancer treatment thanks to progress achieved in imaging technologies, radiotherapy and surgery, now more precise and more efficient.

Treating and curing all cancers: the challenge for tomorrow’s research

The figures expressing the progress made by research speak for themselves: 1 out of 2 cancers are now cured compared with 1 out of 3 cancers 20 years ago. Defeating cancer nonetheless remains a challenge. In France, more than 4,000 researchers in different disciplines are working to better understand and treat this complex multifactorial disease. Their aim is to improve both patients’ health and quality of life. Human, technical, organisational and financial resources are vital in order to achieve this goal. Although the main sources of finance for research on cancer are the public authorities, associations and the pharmaceutical industry, the contributions made by industrial sponsors and donations from private individuals to foundations like Synergie Lyon Cancer provide extremely precious support for accelerating the advances achieved in treatments.