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National Cancer Institutes National Cancer Institute

The Nation's Investment in Cancer Research

Empowering Cancer Research

Every life is touched by cancer. As the leader of the U.S. efforts to understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer in all of its forms, NCI must play the central role in bringing together basic and clinical researchers, patients, physicians, care givers, policy makers, and many others in a common cause.

Personalized Cancer Medicine

Detection and diagnosis

  • Identify patterns of genes associated with the development of specific cancers.
  • Study how genetic variations that change the function of proteins cause cells to function abnormally. Investigate how those changes are further affected by lifestyle behaviors and environmental factors.
  • Develop biomarkers—blood tests and other tests using human specimens; imaging techniques; and other new methods—to detect and measure changes in protein and cellular function associated with specific cancers.

Prognosis and prevention

  • Monitor the changes in an individual's cellular function, in order to detect pre-cancerous changes and intervene to prevent those changes from progressing to disease.
  • Use genetic profiles to identify subsets of cancer types that define prognosis.


  • Choose targeted therapies that minimize side effects and are based on both the type of cancer and the individual's biological profile.
  • Use biospecimen tests and imaging techniques to measure the impact of interventions and refine treatment to improve outcomes.

The convergence of new biomedical technologies with information technologies has revealed to us just how complex cancer truly is. Indeed, the biology of cancer is intimately intertwined with the unique genetics of each person, making it an "individualized" disease. The ability to deliver individualized interventions to patients requires the integration and collaborations of disciplines not traditionally thought of as part of cancer research. This broader view of the cancer research community extends to mathematicians, physicists, and chemists as well as others in the physical sciences and relies on their skills and talents to enhance our ability to manage large amounts of data as well as developing novel applications in clinical research.


The progress we have made has opened up a vision of a future personalized cancer medicine, when doctors will determine prognosis and treatment options by understanding each patient's unique genetic makeup and the genetic aberrations that have led to his or her cancer. Th at future includes developing combinations of therapeutic solutions that target the multiple pathways of cancer, earlier interventions that eradicate cancer long before the development of a tumor or the onset of symptoms, and effective prevention methods based on the individual.

This is a vision shared across the oncology research community. The NCI-designated Cancer Centers Directors' report "Accelerating Successes Against Cancer"* also recognizes that advances in treatment will come from understanding molecular causes of disease and using combination treatment approaches employing multiple modalities. The National Cancer Institute has not only embraced but is leading the way to that future, and is dedicated in all it does to ushering it in as rapidly as possible.


In addressing the burden of cancer, there is an essential unity between fundamental scientific studies on the molecular causes of cancer, research focused on translating those studies into the clinic, and actual clinical practice. The traditional linear relationship from the bench to the bedside is no longer an effective and efficient model for medical progress. Insights from fundamental scientific research need to be tested in clinical settings, which in turn give rise to new research directions that can be pursued in the laboratory.

Indeed, at the NIH Clinical Center and at many other cancer research and treatment centers across the country, laboratories and patient rooms are in close proximity. Cancer researchers within NCI and based at other institutions are committed to working together to mine new insights from wherever they arise for truly effective cancer treatments.


* [NIH Publication No. 06-6080, September 2006]

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