Focusing on Cancer

Millions of cells divide inside the body every second, replacing old, damaged and dying cells and enabling tissues and organs to grow, heal and support life. Unfortunately, this ubiquitous, carefully controlled process goes awry far too often: Abnormal cells with damaged DNA multiply too fast and wreak havoc on millions of bodies and lives every year.

Above: Glioblastoma cells (orange) spread throughout a fly brain used to model human cancer (normal cells in blue). Image from research by Subhas Mukherjee, PhD.

In 2018, an estimated 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 600,000 Americans will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Though five-year survival rates have increased about 20 percentage points in the last three decades, cancer remains the second most common cause of death in our country after heart disease.

Clinicians at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University treat 15,000 new cancer patients every year. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. As a world-class academic health system, it is our duty to make sure that our patients have access to the best therapies and resources available. But we also recognize that in many cases, the best therapies available right now are not enough — through research we must develop better treatments for our patients.

In this issue of Northwestern Medicine magazine, we focus on cancer and the great minds, projects and programs that are helping us overcome this destructive disease. We examine the remarkable growth of our Lurie Cancer Center over the last five years and highlight four studies that promise to bring innovative new approaches for treating glioblastoma to patients in the short term. Both the cancer center and our brain tumor research enterprise were awarded large, prestigious grants from the National Cancer Institute this August, providing essential funding to support our work and recognition that Northwestern has the talent and infrastructure to not only make important discoveries, but also to translate them to clinics and improve patient outcomes.

In these pages, we also share the stories of two brave patients who had to face cancer during young adulthood — a time when life is hard enough without such a diagnosis — and found support from an oncology program designed to help them cope during treatment and, later, as cancer survivors. Finally, we profile Leon Platanias, MD, PhD, director of our cancer center and the tireless leader who makes sure that the many aspects of our cancer efforts come together successfully.

Finding, testing and implementing the best treatments for cancer is a huge challenge for scientists and clinicians given the depth and breadth of the disease. But that means the discoveries we make in our laboratories and clinical trials can lead to incredible improvements in care for countless patients in Chicago and around the world. Our experts in cancer are not only up for the challenge, they’re already making extraordinary strides.

With warm regards,

Eric G. Neilson, MD
Vice President for Medical Affairs
Lewis Landsberg Dean

Dean M. Harrison
President and CEO
Northwestern Memorial Healthcare

people diagnosed with cancer in 2018

people will die from cancer this year

new patients treated at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University