For the first time since records have been kept, death rates from cancer in the United States have dropped--by some 2.6 percent between 1991 and 1995. These figures are encouraging when compared with cancer mortality rates recorded during the previous decade (1981-1990), which actually increased.

It is likely these successes result from several factors, including more effective methods of treating cancers; better, more widely used techniques to diagnose cancers early; and progress in the prevention of some cancers. Moreover, we have entered a period of unprecedented biological discovery. Perhaps most importantly, we have harnessed the power of new technologies to identify genes involved in the development of cancers and forever change how we think about these diseases.

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy remain the mainstays of cancer treatment and continue to be improved. But today investigators are developing targeted cancer treatments, many of which home in on cancer cells while...

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