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A Week of Excitement and Hope: Communicating the Story of Cancer

, by Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett Director, NCI Office of Communications and Public Liaison National Cancer Institute

As an employee of the National Cancer Institute, I take great pride in the fact that our researchers conduct science that is necessary for improving the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of the diseases we call cancer. As the leader of NCI’s communications efforts, I am honored to have the opportunity to support my scientific colleagues by communicating the work that we do to a global audience. NCI is the engine that has fueled cancer research and provided the intellectual infrastructure critical to continued progress.

The coming days will illustrate what I am referring to: how we communicate about the exciting work that is presently going on at NCI and in the cancer research community, but also about the future of cancer research and treatment. This week alone, we’ll have a series of special blog posts, a live-tweeting session during a groundbreaking documentary about cancer, and a Twitter chat on immunotherapy. There’s a lot in store!

A report card on cancer progress: The Annual Report to the Nation

Today, with three other partner organizations, NCI issued the Annual Report to the Nation, which provides an update on the state of new cancer occurrences and deaths in the United States. This comprehensive report includes a tremendous amount of data covering the last 36 years and serves as an important reference point for many public discussions about the disease. It’s the research community’s report card on the status of cancer in the United States and covers many important topics.

This year’s report has a special focus on breast cancer. For the first time ever, our researchers and partners used comprehensive national data on hormone receptor and HER2 protein status to determine the incidence of the four major molecular subtypes of the disease. It emphasizes a very important fact that women and their loved ones need to understand: breast cancer is not a single disease. Simply put, our new analysis of breast cancer subtypes could lead to a better understanding of the disease, more accurate risk assessment, and improved patient outcomes.

An exciting new PBS program about cancer

This week is not just about the present, but also the past: the history of cancer. On March 30, 31, and April 1, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check your local listings) PBS will air a three-part documentary on cancer, based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., outgoing NCI Director Harold Varmus, M.D., and NCI’s Center for Cancer Research’s Steven Rosenberg, M.D., along with clinicians from several NCI-designated cancer centers, will appear in this film.

To coincide with the airing of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, NCI plans to engage with the public to offer additional information. Our plans for the next several days include:

Live tweeting cancer information

While the documentary is airing, NCI and several cancer centers, advocates and other partners will be live-tweeting information on cancer-related topics mentioned during the documentary, in the moment in which they are mentioned. For example, when chemotherapy, is brought up in the film, NCI and our partners will immediately tweet information related to chemotherapy tagged with the hashtag #CancerFilm

So as you watch the documentary, follow the #CancerFilm hashtag in your Twitter feed during all three nights and join in the knowledge exchange and conversations.

Blog series

Additionally this week, several senior NCI staff will be blogging about the work we do and what we have in store for the future. Here's what's coming up:

  • On Tuesday, March 31, Malcolm Smith, M.D., Ph.D.will the discuss the challenges of childhood cancer research and how precision medicine and immunotherapy can make a difference.
  • On Wednesday, April 1, Barry Kramer, M.D., will discuss the important opportunities and challenges of cancer prevention.
  • On Thursday, April 2, Jean Claude Zenklusen, Ph.D., will highlight The Cancer Genome Atlas and its potential impact on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer.

Twitter chat on the future of cancer treatment

On April 2 from 1:00–2:00 p.m. ET, join us and other leading experts for an hour-long discussion on one of the most promising areas of cancer research and treatment: immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is what the journal Science designated as its “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2013, largely because of major advances resulting from long-term basic scientific research on the immune system and its ability to fight cancer.

I hope that you can join us in some of these activities, and join in the conversations about cancer research. This terrible disease that affects nearly every person in their lifetime is worthy of all our attention. I always keep in mind that online outlets like Twitter provide just a brief glimpse into the enormous amount of work that NCI does to reduce cancer’s burden, and that, again, is what makes me so proud to work here.

Peter Garrett
Acting Director, NCI Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Cancer Institute
Follow me on Twitter

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