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Why a Cure For Cancer Is So Elusive

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the still-looking dept.

Medicine 366

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "George Johnson writes in the NYT that cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death and although cancer mortality has actually been decreasing bit by bit in recent decades, the decline has been modest compared with other threats. The diseases that once killed earlier in life — bubonic plague, smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis — were easier obstacles. For each there was a single infectious agent, a precise cause that could be confronted. But there are reasons to believe that cancer will remain much more resistant because it is not so much a disease as a phenomenon, the result of a basic evolutionary compromise. As a body lives and grows, its cells are constantly dividing, copying their DNA — this vast genetic library — and bequeathing it to the daughter cells. They in turn pass it to their own progeny: copies of copies of copies. Along the way, errors inevitably occur. Some are caused by carcinogens but most are random misprints. Mutations are the engine of evolution. Without them we never would have evolved. The trade-off is that every so often a certain combination will give an individual cell too much power. It begins to evolve independently of the rest of the body and like a new species thriving in an ecosystem, it grows into a cancerous tumor. 'Given a long enough life, cancer will eventually kill you — unless you die first of something else (PDF). That would be true even in a world free from carcinogens and equipped with the most powerful medical technology,' concludes Johnson. 'Maybe someday some of us will live to be 200. But barring an elixir for immortality, a body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it. And for each added year, more mutations will have accumulated. If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer.'"

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Cancer isn't one disease (5, Insightful)

kumanopuusan (698669) | about 7 months ago | (#45873601)

Cancer is a whole spectrum of diseases with different causes, effects, mortality rates, etc. This question is only a little less silly than asking why we haven't cured all disease yet.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873649)

Cancer is a whole spectrum of diseases

No it isn't.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873725)

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body.

- World Health Organisation

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues.

- National Cancer Institute (@NIH)

Where should he get his definition from?

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874119)

How dare you challenge the baseless and idiotic assertion made by the AC??!11!!!!11!!eleven!!

If he says "no it isn't" then no it isn't by Jove!

IMO cancer is the eventual breakdown of the cellular reproduction mechanism, leading to faulty cells etc...it's entropy in action in biology, the reason no one will ever live forever at least from a biological POV and the same reason it will never be cured.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873757)

Yes, it is. Some are viral, some by metabolic imbalances in the cells, others by poisoning, some by transcription errors, and a few are bizarrely fungal. The only thing that "cancer" is, if it's anything at all, is a bunch of very different diseases that are characterized by the cells in the body multiplying faster than they should. Not all are even tumorous; think about leukemia.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873973)

" if it's anything at all, is a bunch of very different diseases that are characterized by the cells in the body multiplying faster than they should"

That's a contradictory statement.

If one guy breaks his leg falling from a ladder, and another breaks his leg in a car accident, does the doctor treat that broken leg differently? Preventative measures for those broken legs may be different, but the result is the same. Likewise, a broken arm and broken leg might be be susceptible to different treatments, but they're both fundamentally broken bones, and it's worthwhile to categorize them as such.

Cancer can absolutely be categorized as one disease. As you say, it's the pathological replication of a cell. Yes, different types of cells may have different behaviors, although they also all have a litany of identical behaviors. Yes, it's a fruitful avenue of research to treat different cancer types with different methods. But that doesn't mean we should stop looking for broader methods than can treat multiple different kinds of cancers based on their numerous shared characteristics.

The meme that "cancer is a whole spectrum of diseases" is just that, a meme. Researchers who recite that meme don't believe it literally. They do have a much more nuanced perspective on cancer. But they use that meme in an attempt to deflate journalists' and lay people's expectations about cancer research. And then people echo that meme in an attempt to sound knowledgable and up-to-date.

Study any topic deeply enough and almost any label will come up short. That doesn't mean the label is wrong. Labels are meant to simplify and aggregate. They sacrifice accuracy for the necessary convenience of relating complex topics in rational discourse.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (0)

period3 (94751) | about 7 months ago | (#45874203)

Wish I had mod points, exactly this.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 7 months ago | (#45874275)

Well, it all comes down to: are your trying to stop it from happening in the first place (in which case it's a broad spectrum of causes), or to cure it after the fact (in which case they all have the same mechanism). Which way you see it likely depends on which part of the problem you're concerned with.

Genes just need a digital checksum - get on it!

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874367)

My God. Five idiotic diphshits actually modded a six idiotic dipshit up. I mean, I understand that idiotic dipshits like you need to stick together, but could you all at least do it behind closed doors?

If one guy breaks his leg falling from a ladder, and another breaks his leg in a car accident, does the doctor treat that broken leg differently?

I don't know: if we find a way to decrease the risk of falling from a ladder, does that directly apply to the risk of crashing a car?

That was a rhetorical question. I really don't need an answer, you fucking dipshit.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 7 months ago | (#45874193)

I think disease has a bad connotation for what we are trying to portray.

A abnormal condition characterized by the cells in the body multiplying faster than they should or in places where they should not be, etc. Would be better understood.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 7 months ago | (#45873773)

Oh, yes it is...

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (4, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 7 months ago | (#45873975)

You want room 12A, next door.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873691)

The simple reason is that the people who fund the research feel there is more profit in treating cancer than there ever would be in curing it.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873779)

The simple reason is that the people who fund the research feel there is more profit in treating cancer than there ever would be in curing it.

Nonsense. The underlying causes of the uncontrolled cellular growth simply vary dramatically depending on the individual type of cancer. It is extremely complicated to even detect many cancers, yet alone come up with targeted treatments which don't adversely effect another part of a persons body. This is before you even start to factor in the cost of research, development and testing... ;)

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (3, Insightful)

MickLinux (579158) | about 7 months ago | (#45874261)

Okay, it isn't nonsense; it is one of many factors. Yes, cheap cures get removed from the market (mebendazole, anyone?), new cures get challenged before the FDA by johnny-come-latelies until the developers go out of business (angiostatins?), cancers that should remain untreated and monitored instead get invasive surgery (prostate cancer)... yes, chmpanies like to ure the sick and hurting as ATMs.

That said, it is also correct to say that there is no single cure for cancer.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873989)

The simple reason is that the people who fund the research feel there is more profit in treating cancer than there ever would be in curing it.

And the real reason is that there isn't such a thing as a "cure for cancer" and there never will be. Because "cancer" is the result of cell division gone wrong, and there are many different reasons why that might occur. Some of them are due to diseases which can be "cured", but the only real "cure" for cancer itself is to somehow re-program the cells so they start behaving properly again.

And frankly speaking if we develop the medical technology to "cure cancer", we'll be able to fix pretty much anything wrong with a human body including aging.

The FACT of the matter is that the people who love money love being alive to take advantage of it. When we see Bill Gates walking around in a brand new 20 year old body, then we can start assuming they DO have a cure and are keeping it from the public. But as long as the richest and most powerful people on the planet continue to age and die of a variety of common health conditions, we know there's no secret sauce being kept hidden in the interests of making money.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 7 months ago | (#45874089)

Possibly statistical noise, but I see Jennifer Aniston walking around looking decidedly unlike any 44 year old woman in my zip code.

Best AC post I've read on a Sunday, this year.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (5, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | about 7 months ago | (#45874219)

The simple reason is that the people who fund the research feel there is more profit in treating cancer than there ever would be in curing it.

That must be true since we know that there are no actual hard problems in medicine, science, math, or engineering. It's because of the oil companies that we don't have warp drive, antigravity, 500 mpg cars, and personal nuclear piles. The airlines, banks, and credit card companies are holding back time travel (no more late bills or missed flights). We have it on the authority of President Obama himself that surgeons do unnecessary surgery out of greed [wsj.com] . Fermat's last theorem could have been solved hundreds of years ago except for the abacus and adding machine lobby. Shoe manufacturers are holding back personal jet packs since shoes would rarely wear out if you fly everywhere. And teacher's unions prevent people from learning foreign languages while they sleep, with one weird trick.

I have no idea where people get these ideas. Maybe food additives have something to do with it. Isn't hydrogenated-crank oil added to some foods? Or maybe it's just a problem due to chronic lack of sleep [universityherald.com] ?

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 months ago | (#45874359)

hydrogenated-crank oil

Awesome.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 months ago | (#45874297)

The simple reason is that the people who fund the research feel there is more profit in treating cancer than there ever would be in curing it.

People will believe anything as long as they can blame The Man. There's likely more profit in the ability to extend the life of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett than in any other single product - especially since it wouldn't just be for them.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#45873699)

This question is only a little less silly than asking why we haven't cured all disease yet.

It's even more silly because it asks no new questions, nor gives any new answers. The prevalence of cancer today is precisely because of improvements in the treatments of other diseases. The fact that it has been more difficult to cure is not an argument that it is never curable. In fact there are some very promising candidates even today.

Just as you say, however: there are different kinds, and as a result there will likely be many different treatments.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 7 months ago | (#45873899)

True that there's many different causes and the type of cells causing the problems lead to many forms of cancer, but the basic problem with it is still the same - uncontrolled cell growth. And that is per se the problem, over time many of your cells probably go defective but as long as it's <1% of your liver and the other 99% work fine that's not really a big problem. So if you're looking to eradicate the causes that's a vast subject, but if you're just trying to find a cure then it's really one catch-all, find cells growing uncontrollably and kill/remove them. As an analogy you can break many bones in many ways, but the cure is roughly the same.

Of course, that's just curing the symptoms, if we really wanted to fix the underlying issue we'd probably need DNA-level ECC. Little nanobots running around resetting any bit flips in our DNA caused by mutations. But that's much, much further off so until we have that, statistically you can do a few things to reduce mutations but they they can't be avoided and lightning may or may not strike you. The world's longest living person Jeanne Calmant smoked from 21 to 117, no lung cancer there. Others have had little kids die from cancer. That's what you get with random bit flips in your biological computer.

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

Flere Imsaho (786612) | about 7 months ago | (#45874155)

That's basically what the summery said " But there are reasons to believe that cancer will remain much more resistant because it is not so much a disease as a phenomenon"

How then is this insightful?

Re:Cancer isn't one disease (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874233)

What does the wintery say?

Also it is the body attacking itself (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 7 months ago | (#45874177)

That makes it harder to deal with.

What some people seem to forget is that we dealt with the easy stuff in medicine already. We are getting to tougher and tougher problems to tackle, hence why it takes longer and more research to deal with.

Cancer is very tricky. As you note it is a type of issue, not a single disease (much like the flu is a type of viral infection, not a single virus) and it really is the body turning against itself, it isn't an outside pathogen that can be dealt with.

Money (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873629)

Cancer is revenue generating. Finding a cure ins't in the best interest for lots of people.

Re:Money (1, Insightful)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about 7 months ago | (#45873847)

In the 80s I read an article which claimed that cancer researchers were being overly conservative and rejecting many ideas because there was too much money to be made from private/government grants for cancer research. At the time I dismissed it as conspiracy theory. But 25 years later it appears that they may have been right.

As someone who has had cancer, I have learned a lot. Most importantly, all the various cancer charities are complete frauds. Despite taking in untold Billions of dollars, the number of people dying from cancer has increased, not decreased over the last 20 years. And nobody has ever had their cancer cured because someone wore a pink ribbon or yellow wristband or walked 10 kilometers.

If you are lucky, like I was, and the entire tumor can be removed surgically before it has a chance to metastasise, you'll be OK. But if the tumor is in an area where surgery is impossible, or if the cancer metastasises, in most cases you are fucked. And all the pink ribbons, yellow wristbands and 10k walks in the world won't save you.

Re:Money (5, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | about 7 months ago | (#45873949)

As someone who has had cancer, I have learned a lot. Most importantly, all the various cancer charities are complete frauds. Despite taking in untold Billions of dollars, the number of people dying from cancer has increased, not decreased over the last 20 years. And nobody has ever had their cancer cured because someone wore a pink ribbon or yellow wristband or walked 10 kilometers.

If you had bothered to actually read even the slashdot article (you don't even need the links), you would understand why the number of people dying of cancer increases. Everyone who has died so far has died of something. Many of the causes people were dying of, we have minimalized or fully eliminated in the last 150 years, Nearly no one dies of the bubonic plague anymore for instance, and most of the other infections are in retreat. With every cause we eliminate, all the remaining causes get a bigger share. And in the end, there are two main causes remaining: coronary diseases and cancer. Everyone of us, given that he dies not of anything else before, will in the end die of either coronary diseases or cancer, which means that they will increase their share, if we further eliminate the other causes for an premature death.

What is actually increasing is the average age humans die because of coronary diseases or cancer. That means, we are able to push the time further away, when cancer or coronary diseases will get us.

Re:Money (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about 7 months ago | (#45874029)

As someone who has had cancer, I have learned a lot. Most importantly, all the various cancer charities are complete frauds. Despite taking in untold Billions of dollars, the number of people dying from cancer has increased, not decreased over the last 20 years.

That is a statistical fallacy, if we're getting better at treating cancer but even better at treating non-cancer diseases and injuries the relative share of cancer deaths may go up. Most of the people diagnosed with cancer are quite old and while we're getting better at emulating the body's "functions" with artificial hearts, artificial lungs, dialysis machines and so on we're not making the same kind of progress on cancer. I've had several ill and frail relatives but modern medicine kept them alive until the cancer got them, I consider it more of a success than a failure of the medical system. Eventually everybody dies from something.

Re:Money (3, Insightful)

dmr001 (103373) | about 7 months ago | (#45874031)

It's an interesting claim that apparently all cancer researchers feel there is so much money to be made in grants, they are careful to reject novel ideas that might lead to cure for cancer so they can securely remain on the gravy train. By interesting, I mean for what it reveals about how people think. Hanging around the parking lots of university-based research facilities did not yield a surfeit of expensive cars. And while a good argument can be made for the plodding progress of research despite all the pink ribbons, breast cancer mortality [cancer.gov] is in fact steadily decreasing - even for women with tumor that's spread to lymph nodes. From the same website, you'll see even more impressive progress in colon cancer mortality, lung, and prostate cancer, which rounds out the list of the most common fatal cancers.

In some sense, increasing cancer mortality likely results from people in industrialized nations being killed less often by other stuff (cars, emphysema, smallpox, contaminated water). And walking 10 km [cancer.gov] (on a regular basis) probably has significantly decreased cancer mortality, probably by changes in hormone balance and metabolism. Cancer research may not always be flashy, but they do seem to dig up useful stuff over time.

Re:Money (3, Informative)

RDW (41497) | about 7 months ago | (#45874051)

So how do the conspiracy theories explain the dramatic improvement in survival rates in those cancers where research-guided improvements in treatment have been very successful?:

https://www.stjude.org/stjude/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=5b25e64c5b470110VgnVCM1000001e0215acRCRD [stjude.org]

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15726810 [bbc.co.uk]

Clearly there's a great deal to be done, and finding 'cures' is a very complex and difficult task. But we finally have the tools to do this in a systematic and rational way, and targeted therapies are already emerging.

Re:Money (0)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 7 months ago | (#45874209)

And anyone who says differently is a complete idiot. There is absolutely no possible way that they would ever make as much for a working cure than they do currently researching one, and supplying expensive stop gap measures.

The #1 cause (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 7 months ago | (#45873657)

is old age. So as other diseases are solved we have cancer moving up the list.

It is very difficult to fight cancer, but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873661)

If cancer is caused by mutations in DNA, all you have to do eliminate cancer is to destroy the tumor and repair the genetic mutations. Sure, it might be extremely difficult, and it could take hundreds of years to come up with a cure, but impossible is a very strong word.

Modern medical technology would have seemed like magic to people 100 years ago.

Re: It is very difficult to fight cancer, but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874369)

I read somewhere that cancer can only run on carbs. All other cells can run on carbs and fat (ketones). Theoretically then, eating only fats will kill cancer.

Genetic rewriting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873679)

I just solved cancer and aging, deliver an engineered virus to re-write your genome with a single master copy, wipe out deviant mutations, no cancer, no aging. Of course that's a hell of a lot easier said than done, and the brain will be a different monster to tackle with its extreme variations in epigenetic variation and even independent mutation, but it's still perfectly physically possible to "cure" cancer. It annoys me when seemingly smart people conflate "very hard" with an absolute and declare something impossible.

Re:Genetic rewriting (2)

Nikker (749551) | about 7 months ago | (#45873895)

In this world most pharmas would sell you each base pair at a time. If you would be able to quell the mechanism that mutates DNA then we could live in perpetuity at the point you stopped mutating DNA. Then we would have to buy time in units and have our remaining show up on a tattoo.... umm well never mind.

Mere flesh? (5, Funny)

blackiner (2787381) | about 7 months ago | (#45873685)

But barring an elixir for immortality, a body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it. And for each added year, more mutations will have accumulated. If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer.'"

Pffft, I plan on being 100% robot by then. I'd like to see cancer bite my shiny metal ass.

Re:Mere flesh? (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | about 7 months ago | (#45873741)

I'd like to see cancer bite my shiny metal ass.

Just wait until your nanotech self-repair mechanisms get a bit hinkey and mix up "break down" with "build up".

Re:Mere flesh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873771)

Pffft, I plan on being 100% robot by then. I'd like to see cancer bite my shiny metal ass.

In what way would it be your shiny metal ass?

Hacking the ship of Theseus [wikipedia.org] with Abe Lincoln's axe...

Re:Mere flesh? (2)

DarkOx (621550) | about 7 months ago | (#45873947)

Rust

Bollocks (2, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 7 months ago | (#45873687)

This hypothesis (that cancer is inevitable, just masked by other diseases that get you first) is wrong.

There are populations where recorded cancer rates are essentially 0. Some pacific islanders, African populations before westernization of their diets (I.E. eating grain) etc. This simple fact undermines the above hypothesis.

There is also evidence that people get cancer all the time and the body deals with it.

The medical research on cancer is primarily focused on identifying the mutations and chemical pathways that cause cancer to occur and then developing chemicals to block those pathways.

So a productive approach may be to find what it is that is causing people's bodies to fail to continue to detect and correct cancers in the body. Unfortunately, that has more to do with diet than drugs and so there isn't a strong profit motive to take that vector seriously.

Re:Bollocks (2)

blueg3 (192743) | about 7 months ago | (#45873751)

African populations before westernization of their diets (I.E. eating grain) etc.

The civilization of their diets, you mean. Modern civilization is built on the agriculture of cereal plants. This is true of both Eastern and Western civilization (and, in fact, probably started in northern Africa).

Re:Bollocks (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 7 months ago | (#45874009)

So what? Intensive agriculture is more efficient at producing dense human populations than hunting and gathering is, but that doesn't mean that it's healthier.

Re:Bollocks (5, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 7 months ago | (#45873759)

This simple fact undermines the above hypothesis.

Not if they all used to die of sleeping sickness before the age of 30.

Without knowing what did kill them and at what age, the existence of these populations might equally well support the hypothesis, might it not?

What was the life expectancy of these Pacific island or pre-Western diet African populations? Did they have anything approaching "Western" medicine for coping with all their other ailments?

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873787)

and how long did those pacific islanders and african populations live on average? Malaria, malnutrition, parasites, war, ...

And if someone did get cancer, would there have been anybody who would have recognized it? Oh, Joe died because he was cursed by that witch in the other tribe.

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873845)

> There are populations where recorded cancer rates are essentially 0.

What is the life expectancy in such populations? A possibility is that something else kills people before cancer gets its chance. Also, how do we know for sure that they don't get cancer? If such populations are very small, this, together with the first possibility, might make it difficult to come up with a reliable picture.

Re:Bollocks (3, Interesting)

Fools Gold (3486579) | about 7 months ago | (#45873881)

Death certificates are a very poor indicator of cause of death. The battle between Cancer and Apoptosis is one theory. It has some merit to it, but it also seems that tumors can be viewed as a fundamental form of life similar to a fetus having its own blood supply and largely anaerobic environment. We keep finding various pathogens in tumors and declare them to be likely causes but are probably a result not a cause. We treat "tumor burden" by lowering the number and size of tumors but we have no idea if this extends the length of life by one second or not or improves the quality of the patient's life at all. We yammer about Free Radicals but make no progress investigating its role in driving the apoptosis pathway.

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873939)

> There is also evidence that people get cancer all the time and the body deals with it.

Sure. Sometimes it goes into remission. I bet it goes into remission a lot more when it's not yet got chance to get hold and show any symptoms. But some percentage of them won't go into remission.

And that's when you've "got" cancer.

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873945)

I'd love to see a source, because I'm sure you're full of it. Think for a moment about those areas of the world with the longest lifespan and best health into old age, and ask yourself whether they still have rates of cancer comparable to that of the West. From memory, Japan and Singapore rank quite highly.

Re:Bollocks (0)

luther349 (645380) | about 7 months ago | (#45873997)

yea people all try that counter that will there was no cancer until modern diets/medicine but the fact is anyone over 30 was old. just like they try to say they had better teeth but what would really happen is people would die of tooth infections so they where dead before they had bad teeth. there is no magic live forever drug never will be even if the hart didn't ever fail stuff like he said cancer or simply your own brain braking down would get you or some other problem.

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874013)

"Essentially" and zero are not the same thing.

Perhaps we can approach zero cancer rates in humans, but only asymptotically. Even animals which are "essentially" immortal can get cancer and die, it's just that their rate of cancer is ridiculously low compared to our own. But it's certainly not zero. Nothing in life, including DNA, is susceptible to that kind of stability. Life is a metastable condition, and so the risk of defects leading to cancer can never be reduced to zero.

Re:Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874159)

Dying from another disease before cancer can affect you, or dying from diseases caused by or related to an undiagnosed cancer, doesn't mean those people don't have or aren't susceptible to cancer.

Perhaps it is poorly worded (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 7 months ago | (#45874167)

As written, the phrase "everyone will get cancer unless they die of something else first" is a tautology and therefore meaningless.

However, your point that for some people, they would probably have to live a long long long time (think, thousands of years or longer) before they got cancer and (naively) assuming there was no further advances in medicine most assuredly would die of something else first is well taken.

Re:Bollocks (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874237)

I bet NONE of the grazing animals in africa die of cancer or heart disease. Perhaps we should start grazing in africa... 'cause it's obviously better for your health!

Re:Bollocks (2)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 7 months ago | (#45874285)

The point was that if one lives long enough cancer is a certainty. Obviously we do not know what the cancer rates would look like for people over 140 years old. However it also seems to me that changing the immune system or altering ones genes to combat disease is becoming more of a reality these days. So if we must complain or be in fear perhaps the real issue is not a cure but a fast and easy cure or arrest of cancer that does not involve pain, fear, loss of teeth or hair or causing one to be bed ridden or suffer large doses of radiation or harsh medications. If we can get cancer to be like a mild headache where we just casually take an over the counter pill to knock it out just like we would take an aspirin today then a cure becomes an unimportant goal. So far cancer seems to be, all to often, a nightmare of pain, misery, expense and losses. And i have already lost many good friends and family to creepy, nasty, cancer. Even my little fifth grade sweetheart went from breast cancer and a girl I went steady with in seventh grade is dead of breast cancer. The list is too damned long.

and...you can 'catch' cancer (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about 7 months ago | (#45873705)

remember way back when (before bacteria was the bad guy)?: "For many, many years, ulcers within the stomach were thought to be caused entirely by emotional stress". http://people.ku.edu/~jbrown/ulcer.html [ku.edu] well, cancer, for many, many years was thought to be non-contagious. until it's not. this is the next breakthrough for the courageous researcher.

Re:and...you can 'catch' cancer (2)

PaddyM (45763) | about 7 months ago | (#45873831)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_facial_tumour_disease [wikipedia.org]
Cancer is contagious right there.

Also, note that Gardasil, the vaccine which prevents HPV, is being legislated ostensibly to prevent cervical cancer.

So yes, there are contagious causes of cancer, but there are other non-contagious causes as well. And the trouble is that once it occurs, it is difficult to selectively remove those particular cells when they look mostly like any other cell.

Probability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873717)

Given a long enough life, cancer will eventually kill you - unless you die first of something else

Given a long enough summary you'll eventually die of boredom - unless you die first of something else.

Re:Probability (1)

Garridan (597129) | about 7 months ago | (#45874251)

Or ponies. Ponies will kill you if nothing else does.

Well.. (1)

Nrrqshrr (1879148) | about 7 months ago | (#45873719)

Old age... True enough, but this doesn't say much about testicular or breast cancers, who hit people in their 20s and up.
Understanding why testicular cancer, for example, can be diagnosed in kids as young as 15 might be an interesting venture, me thinks.

Re:Well.. (1)

Sique (173459) | about 7 months ago | (#45874043)

Because the testicles are places of intensive cell division and thus prone to errors?

True fact: (-1)

jimpop (27817) | about 7 months ago | (#45873723)

It's more lucrative to treat a disease than it is to cure it.

Re:True fact: (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873871)

"It's more lucrative to treat a disease than it is to cure it."

While true at face value, the implication here is that a "cancer cabal" profits as a whole when cures are withheld and it collectively decides to release only incrementally improved treatments. But there is no such cabal, quite the opposite, there is intense competition among researchers and pharma companies and no collective decision, only individuals more than willing to "break the ranks".

Heck, curing a single type of cancer say prostate or leukemia will guarantee you a Nobel prize and a life time of doing whatever you want whenever you want both from a professional and personal point of view - regardless if the cure is monetizable (patentable) or not. And you expect us to believe researchers are actively hiding cures for the sake of the pharma industry ? Please, not even the Mafia can command such allegiance.

Re:True fact: (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 7 months ago | (#45874021)

No, it's not. Appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics and hope, or cured with an appendectomy. Guess which one we do?

Re:True fact: (1)

jimpop (27817) | about 7 months ago | (#45874079)

> Appendicitis

  I'm not so convinced that that's a disease, although I imagine it's quite painful.

natural news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873785)

what do you mean? of course there's a cure for it - it's just coffee enemas or apricot seeds. don't you read natural news? it's the cancer industy conspiracy suppressing it.

As long as crazy researchers... (1)

Faw (33935) | about 7 months ago | (#45873807)

... and volunteers exist I'm sure the problem will be eventually solved, look at the latest (and ingenious) solution for leukemia [ems1.com] .

sci-fi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873813)

Perhaps, in some science fiction utopian future, sample cells will be harvested early in life and preserved. Those original samples would become an endless supply through a process of duplication held to a much higher accuracy standard than occurs naturally in the body. Then, as the years go by, the person's own genetic material will be reintegrated back into their body. The cells with damaged genetics getting overwhelmed by the fresh infusion of original material. If aging is considered as being the slow takeover of the body by damaged DNA, perhaps aging itself could be reversed.

Cancer in general might be curable (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873837)

DNA sequence a particular patient's cancer and normal cells (there might be dozen's of DNA sequences in any one patient) and create a drug that is keyed to the cancer cells (Need to create a "complementary" DNA sequence) and has a poison molecule (e.g. most existing anti-cancer drugs) attached, possibly protected by a transport molecule. Inject drug and wait for transport/diffusion to the cancer cells which must have access to the blood supply to survive.

This assumes quick and cheap DNA sequencing, a poison that won't cause secondary damage and possibly a transport that will protect the drug and allow the "key" to operate effectively. We're not far off all of these things.

Why morons are so prevalent in scientific circles. (1, Interesting)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 7 months ago | (#45873849)

Oh, cancer is an evolutionary compromise of multi-cellular life? Yeah, right. It's a product of mutation, but it runs counter to reproductive fitness, and it's not like our bodies don't have immune systems which reject other foreign (differently mutated) cells, so, Checkmate, moron.

If cancer is so damn inherent in the very fabric of complex life then we probably wouldn't find any species on the planet that doesn't get cancer... Like Naked Mole Rats. [sciencemag.org] Some studies I've seen suggest cancer has less to do with an evolution-wide compromise, and instead may have something to do with the fact we have live young [phys.org] -- Which isn't intrinsic to complex life. Compared to labor and live delivery this seems a bit of a back-asswards path; Probably a product of having too big of a brain to be as overcome with instinctual drives as is required for protecting a nest, but not a big enough brain to build artificial incubators with automated laser defense systems. Well, that and maybe an advantage to survive in colder climates, or migrate during gestation. Then again isn't there eggs in Antarctica -- Penguins, eh?

So, no. Cancer exists because our immune system isn't picky enough, you dolt. Just like we use gene therapy to cure extreme allergy "bubble boy" types when they're young, we'll likely eventually be able to fix up our immune system with a way to sick our own white blood cells on cancer, or cause our bodies to produce anti-cancer sugar in our cellular matrix like the naked mole-rats do.

So, yeah, it seems this fool is just ignorant of the very field they're researching. That's what happens when you over-specialize: You're likely to think your own studies are so damn important that you develop a penchant for making grandiose claims that seem moronic to everyone else even remotely in the know. When combined with a largely ignorant populace (who specialized in other fields) it's a breeding ground for this sort of stupidity.

Re:Why morons are so prevalent in scientific circl (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874007)

Err...you have a point, but 'morons'?
Perhaps the (man/woman)|(men/women) writing on this (is an)|(are) eminent scientist(s). Maybe this is more about how the New York Times gets science wrong rather than what's going on in medicine itself.
And maybe...just maybe, since there are logical or reasoning problems within the theory of evolution itself, this is about how people could miss the very obvious point that if cancer is a side-effect of evolution/mutation then all biological life must be capable of getting it, which is where your naked mole rat comes in. Jerry Fodor and others have pointed out some of the problems with evolution/natural selection, I believe. For example, it's circularity.
But allow me to recommend that you never study economics. If you think morons are prevalent in scientific circles, you won't believe just how bad things can get in what's laughingly called the Queen of social "science".

Re:Why morons are so prevalent in scientific circl (1)

sir-gold (949031) | about 7 months ago | (#45874137)

"Reproductive fitness" ends at about age 25 as far as evolution is concerned. Natural selection doesn't care one bit about what happens to you after you procreate (the male preying mantis is a perfect example of this)

Cancer usually doesn't affect people until well after the age at which they would have reproduced, and as a result wouldn't be filtered-out by natural selection.

A better example of this is sickle cell anemia, a hereditary mutation that eventually kills the person who has it. However, this mutation also grants the person complete immunity to malaria, making it more likely that a sickle-cell individual will survive enough to reproduce in a malaria-infested environment than a non-sickle-cell person would have.

You are correct in saying that the immune system SHOULD be fighting this, but what is the incentive (for the species) in survival terms? You still lived long enough to reproduce, and that is the only thing your DNA cares about.

Maybe, some day, we can find a way retrain the immune system to fight cancer, but such an ability is not going to naturally evolve on it's own

Re:Why morons are so prevalent in scientific circl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874331)

The research you cite does not say what you seem to think it says....

Naked mole rats are not immortal, but if you fixed every other problem you would start to get cancer at some point in their lifespan, this is why many of the publications about this ability call it "cancer resistance" not "cancer immunity". Won't get cancer in natural life span is not the same as wont get cancer ever. Since naked mole rats have adapted to a low risk environment there has been greater selective pressure against such diseases as cancer than in organisms, like us, who have had other things taking a higher toll on our survival, but eventually they will get it. Given their level of protection you might need to extend their lifespan to more than 100 years or even much further than this but eventually they will get cancer.

If you read the second linked publication what it actually says is "increased susceptibility" despite the way the discovery is talked up to make the news sound more important. Cancer would grow slower in organisms without that switch, as they would take more time to recruit blood vessels, but cancer would still happen as the same processes that allow blood vessels for normal growth allow this.

The current publication may itself exaggerate a bit, we may be able to make treating cancer trivial to the point that getting it cleared is compatible to the bother of clipping finger nails, but it is true that no mater how good your protection systems eventually so long as you live some form of cancer will happen and then need treating, it is an architecture flaw of our kind of life. No mater how good the protections you build so long as they are not perfect they will not stop all cancer, just close to all cancer. Making such 100% protection is at least close to impossible, requiring you to make "perfect" systems that never fail, but both cutting incidence rates to a tiny fraction of their current and getting treatment to the point where it is easy is not anywhere near that hard.

Who wants to live forever? (2)

gmhowell (26755) | about 7 months ago | (#45873869)

I guess Heather did, but why did she never disclose what the Kergan did?

And I guess maybe Freddie Mercury did, but he was doing it wrong.

Because of the Illuminati and Masons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873887)

The Stone Masons and Illuminati want to keep the cure for cancer to themselves, and regularly plant comments on the internet about drug companies thinking treatments are more profitable as red herrings. It's good that they do this, because it keeps the herring population high.

A Great Comic That Accurately Describes Cancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873903)

Dr. Jorge Cham, the creator of PHD Comics, made a comic that provides great details about cancer: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1162

Hugh Pickens Blog (4, Insightful)

Luthair (847766) | about 7 months ago | (#45873915)

Seriously, how many articles per day is Slashdot going to feature from this guy? Recently it feels at least 3 per day.

Re:Hugh Pickens Blog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874061)

Because otherwise the editors would have scour a few science blogs and compose FS's out of the stories-of-the-day to preserve Slashdot's branding as a hybrid IT/science blog.

They could do that. i've done that a few times myself, just for practice. Do they want to do that? No.

Re:Hugh Pickens Blog (3, Funny)

BringsApples (3418089) | about 7 months ago | (#45874215)

Why hugh pickens on that guy?

Environment vs Genetics (1)

Idou (572394) | about 7 months ago | (#45873917)

Some are caused by carcinogens but most are random misprints.

It seems there is some research pointing to the contrary [cbsnews.com] .

The /. summary also mentions that cancer is about to overtake heart disease as the number 1 cause of death. Accordingly, can we deduce that increase of lifespan is increasing relatively faster than the increase of environmental causes of cancer? I would sincerely like to believe that, but the ./ summary is not enough for me to adopt such an optimistic view.

Can anyone here please provide some sources supporting the view that the current cancer epidemic is being driven by increased longevity and not environmental causes?

Cancer Is Cured By High Immunity (2, Insightful)

Press2ToContinue (2424598) | about 7 months ago | (#45873927)

A strong immune system keeps cancer at bay - this is a duh.
But our lifestyles are increasingly focused on pathogen and stressor avoidance instead of encountering and overcoming them. Most people look at me as if I'm crazy when I say I like going out in the cold because it's good for me, and as many think I'm a kook when I ask them if they have ever drank water from a stream. Activities in the outside world boost our immunity, and we perform them less and less, and de-germ our environments more and more. I, for one, think there is a correlation.

And cancer is prevented by ... (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 7 months ago | (#45874133)

... dying of something else first.

At least that's how I read the article.

Re:Cancer Is Cured By High Immunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874289)

Yes but exposing yourself to pathogens also causes cancer. Cervical cancer? = virus. Every virus you get tends to modify your DNA slightly who knows what that does.

  Drinking from outside streams is fine as long as you know there are no nasties such as giardia you don't really want that parasite making you throw up for days.

There are cures! (1)

HSkirts (2811941) | about 7 months ago | (#45873951)

Why do you think Vitamin C injections have been banned? Or: http://youtu.be/_nm7nqUigFA [youtu.be]

I've got a disease (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873953)

It's called slashdot beta. Why is classic so elusive? I click on other stories, they come up like normal, this one only comes up in retarded looking beta.
Everything is so spread out and it's just all wonky looking. Hey, was this made for tablets? hahahahahaha

Tree's do not die of old age. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873957)

There is always some other cause, fire, shifting soil, etc...

That cause is never cancer.
Tree's deal with cancer just fine.

beacause TSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873981)

Lots of environmental factors cause cancer, including radiation.

Somatic vs. metabolic theory of cancer (2)

rjniland (84094) | about 7 months ago | (#45873983)

Is the cure elusive because they're digging in the wrong place?

This article seems wedded to the somatic (gene) theory of cancer.

What if it's a metabolic disease (Warburg, Seyfried)?
Seyfried has a 2012 textbook, but here's a concise summary:
http://ajp.amjpathol.org/article/S0002-9440%2813%2900653-6/fulltext

If so, the top treatment, calorie-restricted ketogenic diet, is something that sufferers can try at home. I suspect many are, and I would expect anecdotes to become data in a few years.

Of course, many people are on keto (and just low carb) diets for unrelated reasons. It will take a little longer to learn if this confers improved immunity to the big C.

DNA Preservation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45873999)

In all seriousness, though at the risk of sounding like a cryonics nut, would there be any benefit to preserving your DNA while young to help repair errors while old?

Gene Therapy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874003)

Correct me if I'm going but in a perfect world couldn't gene therapy once every decade restoring DNA to it's original unmutated splendor essentially save that person from the problem of "copies of copies of copies." I realize there are a lot of hurdles to accomplishing something of that nature and that some people are already genetically predisposed to cancers, but that's not the point. If it was possible to restore a "backup" of your DNA on a regular basis, wouldn't it essentially put a stop to naturally occurring cancers.

Missing the significant observation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874037)

Cancer is now believed to be a "verb" not a "noun" by many leading researchers in this field ("not disease but phenomena").
(most) Other diseases..can be addressed as something you acquire (noun.. bacteria/virus).
Cancer is there (in everyone), all the time (mutated cells - multiplying). Sometimes it can be known (no longer contained) after exposure to carcinogens, other times for no apparent reason (copies of copies, age, etc...) it can appear. Creation of a solution using methods good for "disease", impossible.
In other words....Using of the old perspective of cancer as a disease hinders creation of a solution.

The real question: why are some (people/animals) better at containing it? (eliminating/containing mutated cells that are multiplying too fast)
Trying to eliminate the inevitable (some cell mutation) is a waste of time and resources.
In some situations, cells mutating are a "good thing"..

Isn't that true of everything. (1)

Jookey (604878) | about 7 months ago | (#45874059)

"Given a long enough life, cancer will eventually kill you â" unless you die first of else" Isn't that true of everything: "Given a long enough life, [tetanus] will eventually kill you â" unless you die first of something else "

Dead as the Dodo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874071)

Yeah TB we've seen the last of that for sure

Anything that can kill you will kill you ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45874115)

... if you don't die from something else first.

This is mathematically equivalent to saying "you aren't immortal."

Might reduce the error rate (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 7 months ago | (#45874131)

The error rate in DNA replication probably is the result of some amount of evolutionary pressure that trades off cancer against the ability of a species to adapt to new conditions. The "optimum" may not be what we want it to be. It is conceivable that we could modify the DNA replication process to reduce the error rate and thereby reduce the cancer rate.

I'm NOT saying its easy, or even possible, but cancer may not be absolutely inevitable.

No Profit In Cures (1, Insightful)

some old guy (674482) | about 7 months ago | (#45874245)

In case you haven't noticed, medical science (which is primarily undertaken in the US by pharmaceutical companies and universities receiving large corporate endowments), is primarily concerned with treatments, not cures.

A cured patient is no longer a paying customer. A patient under treatment (and his/her insurer) can be milked indefinitely.

Cancer is a symptom not a cause (1)

giorgist (1208992) | about 7 months ago | (#45874371)

Cancer is a symptom not a cause, so it is tricky to fight it. Removing symptoms does not stop more symptoms from coming along. The other reality is that we help more people to survive that would normally would not, which was how natural selection cleaned out the gene pool. So we use technology to make up for it, but it is a battle with a negative feedback loop.

One option... (1)

jd (1658) | about 7 months ago | (#45874383)

...is to improve on the built-in error correction.

This is actually very, very hard. Some, but not all, "jumping genes" and relocated genes need to be able to move freely. But not to just anywhere - some places are good, some places will trigger genetic disease. And it's not possible to be 100% sure if those places are fixed or vary according to some other state of some other mechanism.

So cancers caused by gene relocation aren't preventable at this time.

Mutations within a gene are easier. There are no (currently) known mechanisms that modify genes on-the-fly. Metadata, yes. Controls for gene interpretation, yes. Gene coding, no. So you want error correction codes per gene, independent of location in the genome. This will stop transcription cancers.

But ECCs have to be controlled. You want to stop ordinary cells mutating, not cells relating to next generation stuff - you don't want to stop evolution, just keep it to where it should be.

This means certain transcription cancers will happen, but you'll have reduced most of them.

Killing rapid cancers is easy - they consume resources far faster than regular cells, so you want a poison that accumulates fast in cancers and slow elsewhere. We do that already, but the targeting is being worked on.

Slow cancers are difficult, you probably need cell repair.

Ok, so how to embed ECCs? There are vacuelles in cells that contain nothing but used to contain something. Obviously, you'd put the codes in one of those. Nanotech will do the rest when invented.

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