Saturday, February 3, 2007

Why curing cancer is so difficult

Right now, the bulk of the research in our lab involves developing new and innovative therapies for cancer. It is a departure from what I have studied in the past, and its amazing to me how people respond uniquely to people who study cancer. I guess it is because that everyone is touched by cancer in some way. Usually, people say to me, 'we need a cure for cancer, it's a horrible disease'. I usually smile and tell them I'm working on it as hard as I can, which I am. But deep down that statement bothers me a lot.

Cancer is not really a disease, in a classical sense. You can't catch cancer. Its not an invading bacteria or virus that causes cancer directly. Cancer is your cells going haywire. The cells of your body are like humans, they have a beginning, a job to do, and then are meant to die. It's when that cell finds a way not to die, but instead make copies of itself that cancer begins to form. Sometimes what the cell needs to do to go from a normal cell to a cancer cell is a small change, so being able to kill the cancer cell without the rest of the normal cells is very difficult. For example, chemotherapy is only a little better at killing cancer than it is killing you, so thats why you feel like the treatment is killing you, because it almost is. That's why research like our labs' are trying to find other ways to exploit the changes that cancer cells make, and select them, so that new therapies won't be as brutal as current ones.

So, a cure for cancer won't exist in the way people and media portray it. Cancer happens for many different reasons, and cells find many different ways to stay alive and become cancer. Thus, we need to pick away at all of these complicated reasons, and cures for cancer will happen bit by bit. For example, the type of cancer that killed Terry Fox was lethal in 1981, but not nearly so today. There are many more cancer survivors today, thanks directly to research. But this isn't a war that will be won in great battles, but in small successes. Thus, research is imperitive to treat the cancers that will arise in the future.

In addition, people need to take their own health seriously and stop giving themselves cancer. We know, for certain, that smoking and suntanning are directly linked to lung and skin cancer. So, stop doing it. The time for 'it can't happen to me' is over. There are so many things that every person can do to keep themselves healthy, so get off your butt and do them. There is no way to predict if we will have the capacity to treat your cancer by the time your neglect results in a tumour. So, no point playing the odds....

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