Why is cancer so hard to cure? Will we ever find an infallible cure?


Why is cancer so hard to cure? Will we ever find an infallible cure?

In: 2088

Cancers are hard to cure because there are so many different ones. For example, the treatment/cure for lymphoma isn’t the same for glioblastoma.

Usually, cells that cause disease are very different to your cells. Bacterial cells have very different characteristics to human cells and so we can use treatments that exploit those differences to only eradicate bacteria.

However, cancer results from mutated human cells, so cancer cells and human cells are overall very similar. Therefore, methods that eradicate cancer cells will often also eradicate human cells and we must rule them out. That makes it very hard to find a treatment.

There are many challenges to curing caner. Cancer is an entire subset of diseases, not just one. A lymphoma treatment may be entirely different than an adenocarcinoma in the bowel. Even then can vary from person to person with treatments differing due to random chance and genetics (this is relevant in a study that I’ll get to later).

Additionally, [the cure needs to also not kill the patient.](https://xkcd.com/1217/) Many cancers have a lot of overlap genetically, and physically with healthy cells. IIRC many of them can start off as normal cells, just losing the “stop growing signal” and then ending up in the wrong spots, like a mass from the arm sprouting inside lung tissue. So targeting them without also targeting healthy and vital structures is hard. It’s killing a small portion of something that is mostly human, inside of the human, without also killing the human.

Part of this is why you see sensational headlines like “new drug kills cancer!”
Okay it may kill cancer in a petri dish, but does it work in rats? Monkeys? Does it do this in rats or monkeys without also killing them or leaving them with debilitating and unethical diseases?
Or even if it does pass all of these, does the drug only actually work on a small subset of cancers?
[This trial made the rounds of reddit a few months ago.](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/05/health/rectal-cancer-checkpoint-inhibitor.html) Some cynics were saying “guess we’ll never hear of this drug again!!!”, even though it was 1, already a drug in common use for another cancer, and 2, how often are people keeping track of drugs that cure a subset of a subset of cancer. It worked on people with rectal cancer, who had a specific type that is only about 10% of rectal cancers, who also had a genetic abnormality. It may work for more, but that would require further study, but for the time, that still leaves 90% of the other colon cancers, which even then only make up a smaller percentage of all overall cancers. So even if one treatment comes out and has “solved” a specific type of cancer, in a specific area, in a specific type of person, that’s amazing but then it just becomes a treatment. It’s no longer news unless you’re in that field or have vested interest in it like a patient or family.

To understand this there are a few things you need to know about cancer:
1. It’s not a virus or bacteria or parasite. It is a part of our own body that refuses to cooperate with the rest
2. Because of that it is hard to target directly. We can’t just use a drug that kill everything of a certain cell type because it would kill all the other cells making up our bodies.
3. There are good and bad tumors good ones just grow but leave us alone. Those are usually referred to as benign growth. They attack the body but can cause deformation.
4. Cancer is the bad type of tumor. It diverts blood to itself so it can grow on the expense of killing the oxygen and nutrient supplies of the other cells nearby causing them to die off while the cancer flourishes. (Which can finally result in death)
5. A cancer heavily compromises our immune system. The immune system is responsible for fighting of malicious bacteria, viruses and generally keeping our body’s in working order. So many time when people die of cancer it isn’t really the cancer that kills them but the fact that Thier bodies can’t fight of another disease because of the compromised immune system.

All of this results in the fact that no two cancers are the exactly the same which makes it really hard to develop a universal treatment. It’s not impossible but individual cancer treatments (created for one specific tumor) are way more promising but also extremely expensive since they can’t be mass produced.

Edit: To clarify individual treatments are more likely to result in a cure.

Because cancer cells are very similar to human cells and trying to kill the cancer cells may also harm the patient. Also there are so many types of cancers that it is impossible to develop a single treatment / drug to cure all types of cancers.