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Pledged to Finding a Cure, Yet Advances Prove Elusive

In 1971, flush with the nation’s success in putting a man on the moon, President Richard Nixon announced a new goal. Cancer would be cured by 1976, the bicentennial.

When 1976 came and went, the date for a cure, or at least substantial progress, kept being put off. It was going to happen by 2000, then by 2015.

Now, President Barack Obama, discussing his plans for health care, has vowed to find “a cure” for cancer in our time and has said that, as part of the economic stimulus package, he would increase federal money for cancer research by a third for the next two years.

Cancer has always been an expensive priority. Since the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s main cancer research entity, with 4,000 employees, has alone spent $105 billion. And other government agencies, universities, drug companies and philanthropies have chipped in uncounted billions more.

Yet the death rate for cancer, adjusted for the size and age of the population, dropped only 5 percent from 1950 to 2005. In contrast, the death rate for heart disease dropped 64 percent in that time, and for flu and pneumonia, it fell 58 percent.

Still, the perception, fed by the medical profession and its marketers, and by popular sentiment, is that cancer can almost always be prevented. If that fails, it can usually be treated, even beaten.

The good news is that many whose cancer has not spread do well, as they have in the past. In some cases, like early breast cancer, drugs introduced in the past decade have made an already good prognosis even better. And a few rare cancers that once killed quickly, like chronic myeloid leukemia, can be controlled for years with new drugs. Cancer treatments today tend to be less harsh. Surgery is less disfiguring, chemotherapy less disabling.

But difficulties arise when cancer spreads, and, often, it has by the time of diagnosis. That is true for the most common cancers as well as rarer ones.

With breast cancer, for example, only 20 percent with metastatic disease — cancer that has spread outside the breast, like to bones, brain, lungs or liver — live five years or more, barely changed since the war on cancer began.

80 Are Killed in 3 Suicide Bombings In Iraq

At least 80 people died and 120 others were injured Thursday in three bombings, one by a female suicide bomber in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said, who held a young child’s hand as she set off her explosives among a group of women and children receiving emergency food aid.

The second suicide bombing struck a restaurant filled with Iranian tourists in a restive city north of the capital.

The number of people killed in the attacks is the largest single-day total since February 2008.

The overall level of violence in Iraq is at its lowest since the American invasion in 2003, and Iraqis have been venturing out to parks, restaurants and nightclubs. But a string of recent attacks, highly organized and carried out under tight security, has raised worries that Baathist and jihadi militants are regrouping into a smaller but still lethal insurgency seeking to reassert itself as the American troop presence on the ground is reduced before a full withdrawal in 2011.

“The government was treating the situation like they’d won a victory,” said Sheik Jalal al-Din Saghir, a member of Parliament from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite political party. “They relaxed. We can’t ignore that there were security successes, but that doesn’t mean the story is finished.”