Making strides against cancer

Stanford researchers stand at the forefront of efforts to defeat the disease

Letter from the Dean

Our priority at Stanford Medicine is to serve our community’s health needs, no matter the circumstances. Right now, as COVID-19 cases in our nation continue to rise, we are all facing extraordinarily challenging circumstances.

We are following every precaution, in partnership with the CDC and local public health officials, to protect our health care workers, our patients, and the entire Stanford community.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo by Glenn Matsumura)

This issue of Stanford Medicine magazine is about cancer, not about COVID-19. It was conceived and produced before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, and it offers some timeless perspectives. Even as our medical community responds to the immediate demands of the coronavirus outbreak, some researchers and clinicians push ahead with advances in crucial areas like cancer.

A 19th-century surgeon famously described cancer as “the emperor of all maladies,” but biomedical discoveries and technological breakthroughs in the past decade give promise that the reign of this dreaded disease will soon end. Because of the work of scientists around the globe, we have begun to see the fruits of investment in basic science research, and these advances have opened up other promising avenues of inquiry.

At Stanford Medicine, we have deployed a multifaceted approach to defeating cancer. Not only are we developing precision cures, but we are also identifying ways to predict and prevent the disease. Through this paradigm shift, which we call precision health, physicians proactively use high-tech and high-touch care to treat patients, both adults and children, holistically.

Stanford’s Canary Center for Early Cancer Detection, for example, has aggressively and effectively shifted more research toward prediction and prevention. Cancers caught at stage 0 or 1 have a 5- to 10-year survival rate of 95%. Unfortunately, most cancers are caught at later stages, when survival rates plummet. By developing better diagnostics and creating more robust blood tests, we are helping to catch malignancies sooner, increasing survival rates.

The Stanford Cancer Institute, designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center, coordinates more than 450 scientists and physicians working in basic, clinical, translational and population-based science across Stanford University. Their work is advancing our understanding in diverse areas. For one, the discovery of “don’t eat me” proteins used by cancer to fool the body’s immune system has led to promising clinical trials. There’s also the focus on using a patient’s genome to identify the best possible therapy for that person. For a final example, consider the groundbreaking work at Stanford on the creation and use of human organoids to show researchers how cancer cells function and spread in human tissue.

Our research and treatment extend to survivors, who often feel adrift, unsure whether they can truly trust that cancer won’t return. Our Survivorship Program aims to strengthen the community surrounding survivors to ensure they have a network that helps them navigate their new world.

I’m proud of the many ways that the care teams, researchers, students and staff at Stanford Medicine strive every day to help individuals and populations fight and beat health challenges. The knowledge gained and the efforts spent here will have a global impact — benefiting our neighbors in the Bay Area and people around the world.


Lloyd Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery