Cancer Today: How Close Are We To a Cure?

A relatively common disease, cancer involves abnormal growth, division, or death of cells in the human body. Many cell abnormalities can be benign: confined to one area and relatively easier to treat. The problem occurs when they become malignant and spread to different parts of the body, effectively becoming a serious disease. Malignant tumors spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and cause life-threatening conditions, as they attack cells in the body that are in charge of carrying out a body’s necessary functions. If these cells are attacked, they can no longer carry out such critical functions.

Around 36% of people, men and women, will develop a certain type of cancer in their life. Because it’s so common, cancer research has become a large part of our modern society. As technology develops, we have been able to focus many areas of study into the potentially life-threatening condition. The most common type of cancer treatment is chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells to prevent cell division. It affects the whole body and is effective in cancers that have spread, potentially prolonging the life of someone with advanced cancer. Hormone therapy is especially useful in treating breast and prostate cancer because it targets hormones, reducing how much hormone levels are within a cell that can inhibit them from further growth. Surgery is used to remove tumors concentrated in one area. Radiotherapy is used to target specific areas, damaging cancer cells so that they don’t multiply, and has less overall bodily side effects than chemotherapy.

The 260 cancer organizations in the world have a combined budget of $2.2 billion dollars (per year). To compare, the cancer death rate has decreased “by approximately one percent a year” – since 1990. The most funded cancer research is breast cancer, with a survival rate of 86.7%. Lung cancer is the second most funded cancer (research funds are half of breast cancers’) but has a survival rate of 18.1%.

Now, we know that cancer research has not been necessarily as successful as we expect it to be – considering the amount of money funding cancer research – but why is this? Cancer, like mentioned before, is a disease of the cell, and there are different groups of cells that carry out different functions. Because of this specialization, each cancer attacks a different function that must be fixed in a certain way. Cancer is therefore a “class of diseases,” and there can be no single cure for it. We can compare this to the flu, a viral infection that is always evolving. We have to get flu shots every year because one single flu shot will not cure all other possible flus. Therefore, we cannot expect to make one single lifetime cure for the flu.

Nevertheless, the billions of dollars going into cancer research have still been useful in confronting the disease. Research within specific cancers is shedding light into how “different molecular signature” should be confronted in particular ways. With this, we have insight on learning how to stop the cancer and preventing it from happening. Further research, however, requires more time and excruciating processes.

It may be hard to imagine a future where one simple medicine or shot will protect one from cancer. Cancer increases with age, and cancer survivors are very likely to develop more types of cancer. However, there are so many factors that scientists are researching that might actually significantly raise the chances of a person getting cancer, helping develop a more preventative approach to the disease. For people with skin or breast cancer history in their family, it is crucial to continuously keep tabs and go to regular doctor check-ups for effective diagnosis and prevention. There are many factors within our control that can help better our health in the long-run, but we have to be able to put our own effort. Although there’s been a lot of progress in cancer research, it is difficult to say when it will finally be a completely curable disease, but research still continues in a positive direction and we can at least do our part in prevention.

References:

Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institute, 22 Mar. 2017, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics 

Victoria, Cancer Council, et al. “What is cancer?” Cancer Council Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria, 1 Jan. 1970, www.cancervic.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer.

Contributor, Quora. “Where Do the Millions of Cancer Research Dollars Go Every Year?” Slate Magazine, 7 Feb. 2013, www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/02/07/where_do_the_millions_of_cancer_research_dollars_go_every_year.html.
Treating Advanced Cancer.” American Cancer Society, 16 Dec. 2016, www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/advanced-cancer/treatment.html.

Naile Ruiz