Why cancer has not been cured


2019 Jan, 14 | Source: economist.com

MEDICINE has done a great job of reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke but less so with cancer. Despite a four-decade war against the disease, one that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, in America alone 1.7m people are diagnosed with it, and about 600,000 die annually. Why has cancer not been cured?

The main reason that cancer has been such a hard problem to tackle is a lack of basic understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms that drive it. The first medicines to tackle cancer, chemotherapies, came about during the second world war when it was discovered that people exposed to nitrogen mustard, a chemical similar to mustard gas, had significantly reduced white-blood-cell counts. Researchers investigated whether these compounds could be used to halt the growth of rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. Thus began an era of testing different chemical compounds to see if they would kill tumours. New drugs were discovered that acted on cancer, but this sort of science was not particularly revealing about the cause of cancer or why these treatments often only worked temporarily.

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