Author: Joyce Zhou
Editor: Simona Hausleitner
It is important to know that scientists are not aiming to find a cure for cancer. At the end of the day, the cure is not the final goal. Cancer is not a single disease but is comprised of more than 150 diseases that are distinct and even unique from each other. The diseases can be caused by different factors that respond differently to each treatment. The more scientists research and learn, the more cancer types are found. It is important to realize that it is almost impossible to find a universal cure for all types of cancer. Instead of curing all cancers, doctors and scientists are able to help patients manage their disease with treatment plans like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
The survival rates of cancer depend on the subtype of the tumor. For example, there are two main types of lung cancer, which are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Tumor subtypes can differ in many areas, such as originating in distinct parts of the lungs, growing or spreading at various speeds, or responding to different treatments.
Another reason why it is very difficult to ever find a cure is that cancer is unique to every individual because it is affected by a person’s specific genetics or environment. Cells live in biomes, or eco-systems, in different organs, which include the environment that directly surrounds the tumor. For example, cancer in the bone can act differently than the same cancer that spreads to the liver. The microenvironment adds to the individuality of cancer along with factors like genetics, nutrition, living conditions, and sociodemographic factors.
Lastly, a cure is likely not going to be found because just like any other organism, cancer cells want to survive, and they do anything to make sure of it. They quickly spread to multiple parts of the body, mutating constantly. The fact that cancer divides so rapidly is what results in the various symptoms of cancer and renders treatments ineffective.
Discoveries about cancer development and progression provide insights that doctors can use to help patients manage their cancer. These breakthroughs can take decades to develop into safe, effective treatments for patients, and sometimes what works in the lab does not translate to people. Another solution that does not involve a cure is trying to prevent cancer from developing in the first place. Recent advancements include engineering a virus to attack cancerous cells, hyperthermia therapy (intense heating), gene therapy, cell transfer, and using genetically-modified bacteria to kill tumors. Also, cancer is easier to treat when it is detected early, so developing early detection techniques to spot cases in time should be a priority to stop the disease before it mutates and spreads.
Clearly, it would be extremely difficult for scientists to ever find a cure that works for every person and every cancer type. However, researchers are continually finding new treatments, and medicine is becoming more personalized to every individual. In the future, people’s chances of surviving cancer will likely improve even more.