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For most people, the diagnosis is devastating: "Cancer." Every 62 seconds, an American dies from cancer. That's about 510,000 this year, or 1,397 people per day.

But the numbers should not overshadow the advancements made in cancer treatment. Cancer is no longer a certain death sentence. Sunday's Cancer Survival Day provided a good opportunity to talk about these advancements. Cancer treatment has come a long way since the early 1900s, when few patients survived more than a year or two.

The progress has been slow but steady. In the 1930s, less than 1 in 5 cancer patients was alive after five years of treatment. The survival rates improved to 1 in 4 in the 1940s, and 1 in 3 in the 1960s. Today, 4 in 10 cancer patients or about 416,000 Americans will be alive five years after diagnosis. That's 40 percent of cancer patients.

There are over 6 million Americans alive today who have a history of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. About 3 million of those were diagnosed five or more years ago. One of those is Mary Knott of Jackson, who gives us an impressive example of courage under pressure. She won her battle with cancer, but the ordeal 20 years ago still brings back painful memories.

What makes cancer all the more frightening is the fact it touches so many people. Cancer will strike three of four families. In 1990, more than 1 million people will be diagnosed with cancer. That included 23,500 Missourians.

Early detection and treatment continues to be the greatest hope at improving cancer survival rates. The cancer society estimates that 42,500 cancer deaths in 1989 could have been prevented through early detection and treatment.

The Cape County Cancer Society reports the most common types of cancer locally are breast and lung cancer.

Southeast Hospital's Oncology Center treated 585 area patients last year. Some were newly diagnosed, others were recurrences. The most common types of cancer treated at Southeast were lung, breast, prostate, skin and colon cancer. The center also tracks all those who have ever received treatment at the center, to determine their long-term success in the battle against cancer. Southeast is following more than 3,800 cancer patients.

St. Francis Medical Center treated 412 new cancer patients last year. Its tumor registry also tracks the progress of 6,823 patients. The most common forms of cancer treated at St. Francis area is lung, color-rectal, breast and prostrate.

Many of the young cancer patients in the area travel to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. This specialized medical center treats a number of children in this region including: 22 in Cape Girardeau County, 31 in Scott County, five in Perry County and five in Bollinger County. St. Jude's also stresses the importance of early detection in beating cancer.

More attention on the survivors can help to reshape public attitudes about cancer, especially reports about people who detected the disease early. Their "miracles" lighten our hearts, especially those who are facing their own battles with cancer.