Cancer is one of the major causes of death in the EU-28, accounting for 25.8% of all deaths, second only to cardiovascular diseases. In 2012, among the EU member states, the highest standardized death rates for cancer were recorded in Hungary and Croatia, both presenting rates over 330 per 100,000 inhabitants (EuroStat data). In the past decades, significant developments have been made towards treatment of cancer and its complications: more than 60 anticancer drugs obtaining FDA approval since 2005, including novel chemotherapeutic agents, humoral and cellular immunotherapy applications, as well as high-end targeted cancer therapy protocols (e.g. angiogenesis inhibitors, modulators of specific and multiple molecular pathways). Moreover, significant progress has been achieved in cancer prevention through the use of vaccines (e.g. cervical cancer vaccine) and screening (e.g. breast and prostate cancer).
Despite these tremendous advances, cancer is still a rapidly growing burden, especially in ageing societies, and remains a public health problem worldwide. A main obstacle to achieve translational developments in the field is the extreme heterogeneity of cancer, but we are convinced that by employing novel, alternative and multidisciplinary approaches, breakthroughs can be achieved. Our strategy at the HCEMM includes the combination of personalized, precision and systems medicine, as well as of multilevel ‘omics’ including genomics, epigenomics and metabolomics. Importantly, cancer is mainly a genetic disease caused by mutations in DNA leading to cellular and molecular heterogeneity, so assessing the genetic material of the tumour cells should be a research priority. Such studies could help identify cancer-related novel, key genes or genetic variations, which may then be used as therapeutic targets or as tools for early detection, diagnosis and prevention.