Question: Will there always be cancer or do you think that we will be able to find a cure for it? how long do you think it will take for the cure to be invented?

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  1. This is a great question. We always talk about getting rid of cancer, but is that really possible? I think the answer is no, not really. Cancer is caused by mutations in DNA, which are caused by many things (radiation, chemicals, etc), but very many of them are simple “errors” take your cells make when they divide and they have to copy the DNA for the new cell. These errors are (I think) impossible to eliminate, and therefore I would say that there will always be cancer. I suppose you could imagine such excellent understanding of cancer and quality of medical care that we could recognise cancer before it formed, which would also eliminate cancer, but I think that is highly unlikely. So I would say there will always be cancer.

    But the good news is, I do believe that we will one day be able to effectively treat all cancers such that they are minor inconveniences rather than life-threatening, similar to (for example) diabetes. This will require a lot of work – every patient that gets cancer has a different disease (due to a different combination of mutations), and it is likely that to treat them we will need to analyse their tumour and prescribe drugs targeted specifically against those mutations.

    A good example of this is in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), which is the rare cancer which is driven by a single mutation, and almost all patients with CML have the same mutation. Around ten years ago, a drug was made which specifically targeted that mutation, and since then survival rates for CML have improved astronomically (one study I just looked up showed an 87% survival rate compared with 28% with the previous therapies).

    Understanding each mutation and designing a drug to target it is also a massive amount of work. But technology and knowledge is advancing at such a rate that I believe this is a real possibility.


  2. I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of cancer, because it’s a natural process. Our cells are constantly growing and diving, and to do that our DNA needs to copy itself. That is a really important process and sometimes the copies can have errors in them. Those errors lead to cells growing out of control–this is essentially cancer. For some people this happens early in life, for some people this happens later, some people pass away from natural causes before it ever happens.

    What we would like to do is find a way so that people who have cancer die WITH it, as opposed to BECAUSE of it, if that makes sense. Basically, make it a treatable disease like heart disease or diabetes. In order to do that we need to understand it better, and that’s what cancer researchers are doing. The good news is that we’ve made excellent progress and there are a number of cancers that have treatments that essentially stop it from ever coming back. That’s the goal and what we are striving for.