Are we closer to finding a way to prevent cancer?

Breast cancer doctors say the latest research offers more hope than ever for early diagnosis and treatment.

What if cancer was a manageable disease, rather than a terminal one?

What if doctors could determine a woman's chances of getting breast cancer by looking at her bones? 

At Israel's Soroka Medical Center, these and other questions were recently examined at the first-ever "New Frontiers in Cancer Research" conference. The event attracted pioneers in cancer research from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Columbia University Medical Center, both in New York.

Dr. Larry Norton, a cancer doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering and co-chairman of the conference, said his experience at "New Frontiers" amounted to much more than professional development.

“There is a pioneering spirit in that part of the world, where people have a lot of confidence in the future,” said Norton, who is considered one of the top breast cancer researchers in the world. “They have a confidence in themselves and they are willing to try new things and they’re willing to try exciting things, and that sense of confidence and doing things that are new and unconventional is very important for research.”

Norton and other top docs convened with a common goal in mind: Make cancer a chronic disease, something that can be managed throughout a person’s lifespan rather than something that cuts short a person’s life.

“People live with diabetes and hypertension,” Dr. David Geffen, chief of Breast Oncology Services at Soroka, told The Times of Israel. “We want the same for cancer patients – to have long, productive lives. And with breast cancer, we’re closer than with other cancers.”

Norton is considered a leader in the fight against breast cancer. He told The Media Line that Soroka’s impeccable electronic medical records, its excellent doctors and scientists, and the large, diverse population of patients it serves all played into the decision to hold the "New Frontiers" conference there.

Norton's breast cancer research has turned up some alarming numbers for women in the United States – he says one in nine women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives – and that makes conferences like this all the more important.

"That’s of course a lot of women, and therefore it’s really imperative that we get better at diagnosing and treating the disease to save more and more lives," he said in an April interview.

Throughout his career, Norton has focused on environmental and molecular factors that contribute to the formation and progression of cancer. He explained that cancer cells alone are not deadly. Rather, it is a "microenvironment of tumors" that includes other nearby cells, such as white blood cells, fat cells and bone cells, which work together in the body. He said it’s important to look at cancer at the molecular level to determine its cause, and that by examining a person's overall level of health, scientists can better understand risk factors and prevention tools.

In short, the idea is to stop cancer before it even starts.

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Are we closer to finding a way to prevent cancer?
To prevent cancer, early diagnosis is critical. At Soroka Medical Center, researchers shared the latest findings on how to prevent and manage breast cancer.