Is there, or will there be a cure for cancer anytime soon?

No, there is not a cure for cancer. Sadly, there probably won’t be a complete cure for a very long time – if ever. To understand why, we first need to make a short journey into the world of bacteria…

The decision was taken by Pulpolux !!!, on FlickrSometime in the 1960s, Dr. William H. Stewart, pediatrician, public health doctor, and then the Surgeon General of the United States of America (the ‘top doc’ in the U.S. government) supposedly said: “it is time to close the book on infectious disease”. He thought that humanity’s war on infections, more specifically bacteria, was over, and humans had won a comprehensive victory – thanks to the wonder of antibiotics. Back then, it seemed that antibiotics could ‘cure’ all bacterial infections.  We now know who actually won and who is still winning (hint: it’s not humans).

One of the reasons this triumph never came about is evolution: like all living things, infectious pathogens (bacteria and viruses) adapt when faced with a threat to their existence. Through genetic changes (mutations), bacteria eventually evolve to become resistant to our weapons – making our antibiotics useless.

We have also come to realise that the same process occurs in many types of cancer cells.  They can mutate, adapt to our weapons, and outwit our best medicines.  With every new therapy, the cancer cells can often evolve and outfox us in the long run. For this reason, chemotherapy does not always completely cure someone of cancer.

It gets even trickier. There are many different types of cancer and places in the body where each type can occur.  Each cancer type has different molecules and defence mechanisms (many of which are yet to be discovered). So the task of finding a cure for cancer – a panacea for every type of cancer – is so massive in scope that our target for a cure is still a long way off.

Question from Sarah Begum via Facebook

Answer by Artem Cheprasov

Footnote: Since there is no record to prove Dr. Stewart’s infamous utterance, many people believe he never said such a stupid thing. The phrase’s meaning nevertheless reflected the then popular viewpoint of final human triumph over nature.

Image source: Flickr by Pulpolux

Article by Artem Cheprasov

January 14, 2014

Dr. Artem Cheprasov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He then moved to the U.S. when he was a little boy. So no, he is not a spy. Or is he? He finished his studies in veterinary medicine at the top 10% of his class, conducted research, and discovered a cool mathematics algorithm; but we cannot confirm this as both Washington and Moscow have refused to comment on this matter either because he really is a spy or more likely because they have no idea who he even is.


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2 thoughts on “Is there, or will there be a cure for cancer anytime soon?”

  1. Hi Sara!

    Pleasure meeting you.

    You are most welcome for the answer, I hope it was informative enough (books can be written about your question as there’s so much more to it).

    I did not conduct any direct research on this article (and hence none was quoted) as there was no need for it.

    The answer is one of personal knowledge and understanding of the pathophysiology of infectious diseases and neoplasia I gained after 8 years of scientific and medical education.

    Is there something you’d like me to point you towards for further reading on any particular point in the article? Or was something unclear?

    I’ll try to help the best that I can.
    You’re more than welcome to ask here or just shoot me an e-mail. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

    The best to you!

    -Artem

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