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Surviving Cancer: March 6, 2012

Carol Thisted is a survivor.

“I’m a breast cancer patient. I’ve had breast cancer since 1993.”

She represents a tiny fraction of people in this country who have cancer. Experts expect 1.6 million new diagnoses this year.

“What’s remarkable is what’s going to happen to those people. When you look at the difference between the chances of surviving between 1990 and 2008, it’s improved by about 23% for men and about 16% for women,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez, a medical oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

One of the biggest success stories is breast cancer, due in part to all the money that goes to research. Awareness for breast cancer has never been higher and it’s paying off.

“That translates into real gains that we can use in the clinics, we have multiple clinical trials looking at new medications and new diagnostic methods that can really change the way we diagnose and treat a condition,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Frequently seen cancers like colon and lung are also seeing positive gains. Others such as pancreatic cancer are still a challenge. One of the biggest game changers is early detection.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at diagnosing all types of cancers with better imaging modality, better surgical techniques, better radiology techniques and lastly our treatments are much more sophisticated. We have gone from using one drug to treat all cancers to really understanding what is breast cancer, what is lymphoma; how those two diseases are completely different,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

In 2012, the keyword in cancer is life not death.

“We were on a weeks cruise for our 50th anniversary. We took our children and our grandchildren and had just a wonderful time,” says Thisted.