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R&D advances in cancer Dx

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Cancer death rates are declining. And that is wonderful news.

The National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute noted in March 2012, for example, that death rates from all cancers combined for men, women and children dropped in the U.S. between 2004 and 2008. The rate of new cancer diagnoses also dipped during that period, reflecting increased awareness of symptoms, treatment options and diagnostic advances.

And while a universal cure for cancer remains elusive, scientists continue to develop better drugs that can prolong life, lead to remission and beat a patient's tumors into submission.

In tandem, advances in cancer diagnostics remain equally important. Diagnosis of a cancer at an early stage can increase a patient's chances of successful treatment. Also, as molecular diagnostics continue to proliferate and blossom, they are becoming increasingly important as companion diagnostics to specific drugs meant to target a particular genetic variation of cancer.

Many companies and research institutions made great strides in these areas through 2012. And we wanted to point out those that either brought or are poised to move cancer diagnostics to a new level in the coming months and beyond. Cancer remains a menace, but the five companies and academic groups we're highlighting here have taken significant steps to improve the diagnostic process so cancer can hopefully become more treatable in a variety of ways. Individually, each has redefined breast cancer diagnostics, successfully imagined a new way to detect cancers before they even show symptoms, greatly advanced the possibility of earlier lung cancer detection and treatment, revolutionized colon cancer diagnosis and brought personalized medicine to the diagnostics process in a game-changing way.

Our list follows below. Tell us what you think. And know that we'll highlight many more cancer diagnostics advances in the months to come. -- Mark Hollmer (email | Twitter)