• Question: does cancer have a cure yet?

    Asked by rania06 to David, Thiloka, Shonna, Shobhana, Ryan, Ross, Rebecca, Rachel, Patrick, Nina, MattyB, Matthew, Marianne, Lorena, Kate, Kaitlin, James, Ettie, Emmanuelle, Deepak, Anabel, Ambre, Alex, AlexAgrotis, Aina on 12 Jun 2019. This question was also asked by 18rachelbaxter.
    • Photo: Rachel Hardy

      Rachel Hardy answered on 12 Jun 2019:


      It doesn’t, unfortunately. Cancer is such a complicated disease, where so many different things go wrong inside a cell at once. For example, a cancer cell does not stop growing and dividing (whereas a healthy cell will do). This is because lots of different signalling pathways inside the cell are too active – meaning that they tell the cell to continue growing and dividing even in the absence of a signal telling them to do so. As well as telling the cell to carry on growing and dividing, overactive signalling pathways can cause a cancer cell to : make its own blood supply, make energy more effectively, and in some cases spread to different organs. Overactive signalling pathways can result from mutations in the proteins involved in these pathways. A mutated protein has an altered amino acid (i.e. the building blocks that make up a protein) sequence. This can change how the protein works; including making it too active.

      Chemotherapy treats cancer by selecting and killing cells that divide quickly. Newer cancer treatments can block various signalling pathways that are over-activated in the disease. However, the fact that more than one signalling pathway is over-activated in a cancer cell means that it can be extremely difficult to treat. It would be unlikely that a drug could be designed to block all of these pathways. Cancer cells are also very clever, and can evolve to become resistant to drugs that have been effective before. For example, if one pathway telling the cancer cell to carry on growing has been blocked by a drug, the cancer cell can turn on another pathway that tells the cell the same thing. Therefore, I think it will be very difficult to find a cure for cancer. I think that we will get a lot better and catching and diagnosing cancer quicker. I also think that medicines will improve to treat certain cancers more effectively.

    • Photo: Rebecca Moon

      Rebecca Moon answered on 12 Jun 2019:


      There are hundreds of different types of cancers, and it depends on what type it is, how early it is detected and how aggressive the tumour is as to whether it is curable or not. For example some types of bowel cancer, when detected early can be surgically removed and no further treatment is needed. Childhood leukaemia is one of the most common childhood cancers, and now around 4 out of 5 children diagnosed with leukaemia will have their disease cured – around 40 years ago only 2 our of 5 survived, so that is an amazing improvement that has occurred following years of research into the best treatments. Sadly however, there are many other cancers which just grow too quickly or are diagnosed much later and are much less likely to be treatable.

    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 12 Jun 2019:


      Unfortunately, no. But there are lots of people working on not only finding a cure but also the causes of the disease so that we can maybe try and prevent it from happening in the first place.

    • Photo: Marianne King

      Marianne King answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      Sadly not. 🙁 As Rachel and Rebecca have said there are so many types of cancer, with so many causes and things that go wrong that it’s not possible to find a single cure for cancer. But there are lots of great researchers and doctors who are working to try and find treatments or cures for cancers, so I’m optimistic!

    • Photo: David Wilson

      David Wilson answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      It’s best to be optimistic about cancer and look at the data we have worldwide.
      We are getting better at diagnosing cancer this means we are better at not only identifying the specific type of cancer a patient has but also, due to screening programmes, catching it earlier. This means that we can treat a patients cancer faster and more effectively. We are also developing new drugs and treatments that are more specific and effective than previous treatments we’ve used. All together this means that in the last 40 years cancer survival in the UK has doubled!
      The only thing to remember is that there is a massive amount of variation in the type of cancer and in humans like Rachel and Rebecca have said above. This means that some cancers are more dangerous than others but on the whole things are improving.
      If you want to know more about this then CRUK has lots of data to help you understand: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/survival

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 14 Jun 2019:


      It depends on the type of cancer, and the stage of disease. In a few cases early on, it is already possible to achieve a ‘surgical cure’ i.e. complete removal of the cancer before it spreads elsewhere – one example is early prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate. Interestingly, some prostate cancers are so localised and growing so slowly that they are not considered to have an impact on lifespan (so some men may opt for monitoring rather than surgical removal)

      Here is the most up-to-date information we have on what is available to treat and potentially cure different types of cancer:
      https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/our-progress

      And more details on prostate cancer:
      https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/treatments/choosing-a-treatment

      It remains highly unlikely that we will ever have a ‘one cure fits all’ approach to cancer, but you never know….

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 19 Jun 2019:


      Not as such. some forms of cancer have many treatments options, whilst others have very few (if any).

      Whilst some treatment options can result in the cancer being stopped. This does not necessarily mean it is cured. But termed in remission.

      Due to the nature of the different cancers, a cure for one wont necessarily work for them all…

    • Photo: Kate Timms

      Kate Timms answered on 19 Jun 2019:


      Unfortunately because there are as many types of cancers as there are different types of cell. And each type of cancer is different in each person, it means that different cancers in different people are really really different from each other. To treat them, we need to stop thinking of cancers as being similar and start taking it on a patient to patient basis – using technology to find the exact weakness of their cancer and then finding the best drugs to fight it.
      This would cost a lot of money and it would also mean we would have to have a huge bank of drugs which target thousands of different things that could go wrong to cause cancer.
      BUT if we did all of that, I think that cancer would be a much more manageable disease than it is now. We can only hope that all of this will be possible when the technology improves to make this more feasible.

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