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What's Ahead for Health in 2008

Experts predict medical trends in the new year.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

From the development of a new source of stem cells and the availability of the over-the-counter weight loss drug Alli to the emergence of a strain of drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, 2007 heralded some major medical advances along with its share of setbacks. We have likely not heard the end of these stories, but experts from different fields of medicine are sharing their predictions about what we will be seeing more -- or less of -- in 2008. By and large, 2008 will be a year where medicine takes baby steps toward eradicating diseases like cancer and makes a dent in burgeoning epidemics such as diabetes and obesity.

Cancer: More Targeted Therapies

Will 2008 be the year we cure cancer? "Absolutely not," says Otis Brawley, MD, the chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. But that's not to say that it won't be a banner year in the war against cancer.

For example, 2008 may usher in some more targeted cancer therapies. These therapies interfere with specific molecules involved in the process by which normal cells become cancerous. "We will see more drugs like this come out that prolong life by months, but not by years," he says. "I wish I could say there will be this great study with this great drug, but we are just not there yet."

But it's not all gloom and doom. "We cure a substantial number of people who have cancer today," Brawley says. "We really need to start publishing the numbers of people whose lives have been saved. One-third of people with cancer survive long term and are technically cured and that's a far higher proportion than 25 years ago. We need to develop a little more optimism about cancer."

Other questions that should be answered definitively in 2008 are whether or not prostate cancer screening and screening for lung cancer with spiral computed tomography (CT) scans save lives, he predicts. Both tests are considered controversial because they may have inaccurate results, and it is not clear if the benefits of screening outweigh the risks of any follow-up diagnostic tests and cancer treatments.

"We are also going to learn more about how medications that treat anemia caused by chemotherapy can be appropriately used and how they should not be used," Brawley says.

Recently some research has shown that these drugs, which stimulate red blood cell production, may actually promote tumor growth and/or cause blood clots. "We are going to learn more about how to use these drugs," Brawley says. "They do have a place in oncology, but they have been overused."

Diabetes: Is the Epidemic Finally Over?

The diabetes epidemic may plateau in 2008, predicts John Buse, MD, PhD, chief of the division of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and the president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association.

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