• Question: when do you think there will be a cure for cancer? ;)

    Asked by georgie to Gioia, Iain, Jo, Leo, Mariam on 14 Jun 2010 in Categories: . This question was also asked by deadly, boo1234, boo123, sirjayjayec, maddie, kate, alisonkatie, iniyan, ehedgerrossiter, karat, taracs, ewen, claireandhannah, thesciencegeeksd, epurlyte, mdawestwood, frankie, helen1, nigeorge, roseandellie.
    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 13 Jun 2010:

      The first thing I have to say is that unfortunately, there will probably never be a single cure for all cancers. Cancer is a very complicated disease, and can have many, many different causes. Even if two people have the same type of cancer, it will be at least a bit different in each person, and so might not respond to the same treatment.

      So I’m afraid there isn’t an answer to your question really. For some cancers it will be many years before we can treat them effectively, while for others scientists have already made a lot of progress. For example, some scientists in the institute I work in were recently involved in developing drugs called “PARP inhibitors”. These are turning out to be very effective against some cancers, like breast cancer and prostate cancer.

    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      This is a good question, but it doesn’t really have an answer, because cancer isn’t one single disease. The public often think of cancer as a single thing, just like people in the past thought that fever was a single disease. Just as there are many things that can cause fever (such as flu, gout, thrombosis or malaria), there are many different causes of cancer. For this reason, there will never be a single ‘magic bullet’ which will cure all cancer, but there will be many different cures for many different types of cancer, and they will be discovered one by one. Some cancers, like testicular cancer and myelogenous leukemia, can be cured or managed in the vast majority of cases. Others will take time before they have better survival rates.

    • Photo: Leo Garcia

      Leo Garcia answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      That’s a tough question to answer, primarily because cancer isn’t a single disease! It is, in fact, the name we give to a class of over 200 different kinds of disease (http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/about-cancer/cancer-questions/how-many-different-types-of-cancer-are-there). Add to this that the biology behind cancer is enormously complicated, and cancer can behave in different ways from person to person, and you can begin to understand why the concept of a ‘cure for cancer’ seems, for the moment at least, unachievable!

      However, there are people, like the people who work in the Institute of Cancer Research where I do my PhD, who get up in the morning with the explicit purpose of learning how to fight those different kinds of cancer. Our studies into the precise genetic journey (called ‘genetic pathways’) that happens to turn a healthy cell into a cancerous cell has, in scientific terms, only just begun. And already we have learnt so much (see above!)

      Who knows what things will be like for our descendents in 100 or 200 years time? There is no doubt that we will be closer towards treating cancer more effectively and reliably – and we need more future scientists like you to make sure that happens!

    • Photo: Gioia Cherubini

      Gioia Cherubini answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      This question is really hard, because the more I know about cancer, the more I realise that we need to know more before we’ll be able to cure it. My idea though, is that there won’t be just ONE cure for all cancers, but that we’ll develop ways to treat each cancer depending on which kind of cellular alterations there are in the cancer cells. It will take time, but we’ll get there!

    • Photo: Joanna Watson

      Joanna Watson answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      I’m not sure there will ever be a cure for ALL cancers. There are lots of different types of cancer and treatments that work for one won’t necessarily work for others. We’re getting better at treating cancer all the time though, and I think that the treatments will continue to improve so that more and more people can have long and healthy lives.