When I began my career as an oncologist more than 35 years ago, I could not have imagined where we would be today. Cutting-edge, sophisticated technology is allowing doctors to prevent or detect cancer earlier, target treatments more effectively and avoid unnecessary side effects. It all translates to what is most important: enabling patients at risk for or with cancer to live better, longer lives.

We have seen declining mortality rates and increases in the number of people surviving cancer, and it will only get better. Today, there are over 14 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is expected to climb to 24 million by 2025.

To chart our path forward for the future, we must build and expand on current knowledge and understanding of two of the most promising approaches to cancer we have seen yet.

Deepening knowledge

The expansion of immunotherapy continues to yield new insights into how and when these relatively new treatments work best. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight cancer. For some patients, immunotherapy extends survival from months to years.

“... our growing knowledge of cancer biology will take targeted therapy to an entirely new level in the coming decade.”

However, we are in our infancy in this field. Immunotherapies are available for just a few different types of cancer, not every patient with those types responds and we do not have good biomarker tests to help us select who should receive it.

Nevertheless, we remain hopeful: research is already underway to explore immunotherapy use in more cancers and its effect when used in combination with other treatments and to identify molecular features that help us apply these therapies with more precision. The goal is to deepen our understanding so that in the future, even more patients can benefit from it, while we avoid exposing those who will not to side effects.

Expanding horizons

Precision medicine continues to shape how we care for patients today and in the future. It enables doctors to learn about an individual’s inherited, and his or her cancer’s genetic makeup, so we can match drugs that targeted these genetic differences. While targeted and individualized treatments have already transformed cancer care, our growing knowledge of cancer biology will take targeted therapy to an entirely new level in the coming decades.

These treatment advances are enhanced by expansion of health information technology platforms, new approaches to cancer prevention and screening and a greater emphasis on doctor and patient relationships. Advances in cancer care and treatment over the past 40 years have led to stunning gains. The future of cancer care is here — but we are just getting started.