The cost $ of cancer eradication ?

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Offline DERYN

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The cost $ of cancer eradication ?
« on: 05/01/2011 21:27:15 »
Hi everyone,

if there were an unlimited supply of money, facilities and human resources, would we see the eradication of cancer in the very near future ?

Is current cancer research looking for ways to eradicate cancer altogether, or, looking to cure cancer once it has been diagnosed ? Or perhaps both ??

many thanks,



Offline CliffordK

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The cost $ of cancer eradication ?
« Reply #1 on: 05/01/2011 22:13:51 »
With very few exceptions, cancer is not believed to be a communicable disease like small pox, but rather is caused by mutations that originate in the individual.

The one exception is HPV related cervical cancer, which is now being aggressively treated in the USA.

Smoking & chewing tobacco does increase the risk of certain types of cancer.  It is beyond me why tobacco is still grown and distributed, but eliminating that risk factor would certainly be one of the "cheapest" cancer prevention treatments.

Radioactive materials are ubiquitous in our environment.  There is some effort to identify and remediate radioactive Radon gas in people's houses, but often it is ignored due to the cost of remediation, potential effect on property values, and limited benefit.

There may be genetic predispositions for other types of cancer.  Preventative measures such as bilateral mastectomy are certainly controversial. Genetic treatments are certainly in their infancy now.  Pre-conception genetic manipulation, or the development of a "super-human" will certainly be something that future generations will have to deal with.

Cancer vaccines are a complicated issue because the cancer is actually growing in normal tissue.  There are experimental treatments directed at stimulating the immune system, but only after the cancer develops.  A risk of an auto-immune disease response might limit the ability of a general vaccine.

Anyway, there is a lot of current research.  I'm not convinced that throwing more money at the problem will lead to a "cure" per se, although I have no doubt that cancer treatment will be greatly improved a century from now.


Offline rosy

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The cost $ of cancer eradication ?
« Reply #2 on: 05/01/2011 22:32:48 »
The thing about cancer is that it's not just one disease. Each individual cancer, in each individual person, is the result of individual cells in their body malfunctioning and effectively just inactivating the systems which, in healthy operation, prevent cells from multiplying out of control. So whereas infectious diseases are carried by viruses* or bacteria which in principle might be wiped out thereby eliminating the disease (as in the case of smallpox), cancer comes from the body of each individual.

The other result of the way cancer arises anew in each individual is that different cancers respond to different types of treatment, depending on exactly which control systems have failed.

There are some forms of treatment that work well for several different cancers.. at their most basic, chemotherapy drugs are pretty much just chemicals which kill of cells which are dividing fast - cancer cells, but also skin, stomach lining, bone marrow. And that type of drug can be effective on loads of cancers, but the side effects are awful.
Some treatments work by suppressing or enhancing the production of a particular hormone such as oestrogen or testosterone, because these hormones happen to promote or discourage proliferation by the particular type of cell that's turned cancerous. But these treatments only work for some cancers, and often some of the cancer cells eventually undergo a further mutation so that it they are no longer affected by the hormone and the treatment stops working. One of the problems with cancer cells is that because once they start dividing fast they tend to build up more mutations due to further DNA copying errors, some of which make the cancer more "aggressive".

So the whole thing about "a cure for cancer", cancer eradication, is that it's basically impossible... however much money is thrown at the problem. Individual cancers can be cured in individual people, either by surgical removal of the cancerous cells, or by drug treatment, or by some combnination of the two (in the sense that they go away and don't come back and the person dies much later of something else entirely). Also... individual people can reduce their risk of cancers by not smoking, not living on a diet of smoked meat and gin, not spending 8 hours per day on a tanning bed, etc. BUT, cancer is a disease primarily of old age. The older you get, the greater the chances that over your lifetime a few of your cells will mutate and become cancerous. As medical care gets better and fewer people die young of appendicitis or 'flu, as fewer people die of their first heart attack in their 60s, and so as more people get the chance of living on to die of something else, more people will develop cancer. On the other hand, as cancer treatments get better, people will be less likely to die "of" cancer and more likely to die "with" cancer - that is, to die of something else entirely (heart attack, car crash, unfortunate sky-diving accident) whilst being affected by cancer.

There is pretty much no limit to the amount of money that could be spent on better and better cancer treatments, without ever actually "eradicating cancer". For one thing, if someone has leukemia as a kid and lives to grow into a healthy adult, they're at least as likely as anyone else to develop breast cancer at 40. And if they're lucky with that.. well, they're still as likely as anyone else to be carried off in their 70s by bowel cancer.

*Some cancers are triggered by infection with a particular virus, such as HPV triggering cervical cancer, so if HPV were wiped out it would decrease the number of women with cervical cancer (and possibly men with penile cancer), but there would still be people without HPV who would just get cervical cancer through sheer bad luck (rather than HPV plus bad luck). I think the Epstein-Barr (glandular fever/mononuleosis) virus is sometimes associated with triggering leukemia, too.