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Why we will need to learn new skills to control cancer

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As a society and as specialists involved in the diagnosis and management of cancer, we must begin to find new cost-effective ways to provide equitable access to the innovative, effective and expensive drugs that may begin to make cancer a chronic rather than rapidly lethal disease. Drugs such as trastuzumab and gefitinib are safer ‘targeted therapies’ that only attract government subsidies after the pathologist identifies the target present in a minor subset of patients. Nonetheless, funding for pathological identification of these targets remains a challenge. To illustrate, gefitinib may produce ‘Lazarus’ responses and prolonged survival among patients with epidermal growth factor receptor mutation-positive non-small-cell lung cancer. Many such examples will enter the clinical domain in the coming years. As we enter this era of personalized medicine, we argue that the use of expensive targeted therapies should be limited to pathologically proven indications because truly effective drugs are best applied to those individuals who would most benefit. It follows that medical oncologists should be trained properly to use targeted therapies. Then a new generation of oncologists would be empowered to participate in the iterative cycles of research between bench and bedside that are necessary for optimal use of biotherapies and their integration into multimodality cancer treatment programmes. We propose that cancer pathology be made available as a training option in the postgraduate education of medical oncologists. Oncologists and pathologists may jointly administer and mutually accredit the training module, which may also contribute towards the award of a higher degree.
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Keywords: cancer therapy; cost-effectiveness; education; medical oncology; pathology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Molecular Pathology, South Eastern Area Laboratory Services 2: Division of Molecular Pathology, Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, Adelaide, South Australia 3: The Cancer Council Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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