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Why haven’t we cured cancer yet?

Why haven’t we cured cancer yet?
Ricky Carpenter from South Yorkshire (age 15-24)

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One Response

  1. A good question, Ricky. All that money and effort and brain power going into things like the human genome project and Cancer Research and yet we still haven’t got a cure for cancer. Why are our scientists such terrible slackers?

    Well. The first problem is that there are lots of different sorts of cancers and they all behave in different ways. For example, most cancers of the skin are due to over-exposure to sunlight and some, such as malignant melanoma, can be very nasty indeed. But other skin cancers are much more slow-growing and hardly ever represent a threat to life. There again, lung cancer is caused by smoking; Cervix cancer is due to a specific viral infection; Cancers of the retina (the back of the eye) are usually due to a genetic mutation; Some cancers run in families; Others do not.

    It’s a complex and confused picture.

    Because each type of cancer has a different biology, we have to develop different strategies to prevent, detect and treat them, one at a time. We’ve made great progress over the last couple of decades. Some cancers really are curable these days – especially cancers of the blood cells in kids. Some can be prevented or detected early before they have got out of control with screening programs such as mammography for breast cancer. Others are proving more tricky. Although lung cancer can be prevented by encouraging people not to smoke, treatment of the disease once it has developed – “cure” – is really far from perfect at the moment.

    Pathologists and other scientists and doctors are working on projects to prevent cancers, to pick them up early and to make rapid and accurate diagnoses that will help the clinical teams to treat and hopefully cure more and more different cancers. The pharmaceutical companies who develop anti-cancer drugs spend huge amounts of money in laboratory research and in clinical studies to push back the frontiers in the challenging area of medicine.

    it is a slow and painstaking process. But it will be worth it in the long run. In the meanwhile, anyone who sadly does end up with a cancer can do a whole lot of good by participating in one of many research projects currently active in the UK. It is a fantastic gift for future generations.

    By the way, I’m a pathologist working in cancer diagnosis and in screening for early cancer. Like lots of people working in cancer medicine, I’m a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.

    The Royal College of Pathologists is holding an event entitled, Sex Drugs and Alcohol during National Science and Engineering Week. Our first National Pathology Week (3 – 9 November 2008) is taking place this year. See http://www.rcpath.org/index.asp?PageID=1526 for more details.

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