• Question: why do you think a cure for cancer has not been made?

    Asked by madiya to Dalya, Derek, Sarah, Tim, Tom on 19 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Dalya Soond

      Dalya Soond answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      There are drugs that are very effective against certain types of cancers, for instance against a type of leukemia that affects children. However, as Tim (?) explained very nicely in a similar question, you can never know if you have completely cured cancer because there may be extra cancer cells lurking around the body that cannot be detected unless they make the person sick again (that’s called a relapse).

      One of the difficulties in designing medicines to treat cancer is that the cancer cell keeps changing and mutating. So a drug that might have killed most of the cancer cells yesterday will not be effective today on the remaining cells that have changed their genetics. In cancer, it is very common to have mutations in genes that helps correct mistakes in DNA or make them die if a mistake cannot be fixed. Probably the most common of mistake is made in a gene called p53, which is mutated in over 1/2 of all cancers. If a gene like p53 is ‘broken’, then many mutations cannot be fixed, and the cancer cell can change more quickly than doctors can change medicines.

    • Photo: Tim Millar

      Tim Millar answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Cancer is complicated, lots of people over many years have tried to work it all out so its not for lack of effort. It means that we need to do more looking and maybe, take a step back and be a bit more radical with our ideas.

      Eventually though, there will be better treatments and hopefully for some cancers at least, we will be able to prevent them happening in the first place.

    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      I think another one of the problems with cancer is that it’s extremely difficult to target. The building blocks of cancer are the body’s own natural resources. It can be difficult to differentiate it from normal healthy tissue. The main differences are that it looks a bit different from normal cells and it grows much faster.

      I think another problem is that the word “cancer” is used to describe over 200 different diseases, that can affect all the different parts of the body. Not all cancers are caused by the mutations of the same genes. And there are so many different causes and factors…

    • Photo: Derek McKay-Bukowski

      Derek McKay-Bukowski answered on 15 Jun 2011:

      Cancer is complicated. There are also many different types of cancers.

      I know who have suffered cancer and who were cured. But I also knew people who died because of cancer.

      Also, cancer is becoming more prominent as we are living longer. That is because we are fixing other diseases that historically would have killed us before cancer did. Things like small pox used to be rife, but they have been mostly fixed and cancer is one of the current challenges.

      Our bodies are very complicated chemical reactions and understanding how they work and what happens at the cell level if very very difficult work. While we may not necessarily find a cure, much improvement has been made and so your chances of survival these days is much higher than it used to be.

      On the other hand, we forget to be careful with things too, such as radiation, chemicals and lifestyle. This means that there are probably more cases of cancer than there used to be. And there is also the issue of evolution too. I wonder if we are somehow building the need for cancer, and its cure, into our evolutionary track?

    • Photo: Tom Crick

      Tom Crick answered on 19 Jun 2011:

      Because cancer is not just one illness, it is the classification of a wide range of illness, with very different symptoms and treatment. This is why it is hard to find a cure for “cancer”.

      It can also be hard to find a cure for a specific type of cancer (for example, lung cancer), because there may be many different types which respond differently to different drugs.