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Surprising Science

Do We Need to Cure Cancer?

Though bold predictions have been made in the past about ending cancer, we are still years away from a cure for cancer, if such a thing even exists. But advancements in prevention and detection are revolutionizing the way cancer is treated.

Bold predictions have been made in the past about ending cancer. A 1969 advertisement in the New York Times famously said, “Mr Nixon, you can cure cancer”—with a goal set for 1981. Years later, the former director of the National Cancer Institute proclaimed that by 2015 we would have banished suffering and death from cancer. Yet with just 4 years ahead of us and over 560,000 Americans dying each year from the disease, that goal looks unrealistic to say the least. During Big Think’s Breakthroughs: Cancer panel, some of the world’s leading cancer researchers looked back on how far we’ve come and how much farther there is left to go.

As we’ve begun to realize how many different subtypes of cancer exist, research has shifted away from a cure towards that other C word, control, says Doug Schwartzentruber, a surgical oncologist. “So many of our trials right now that are publishing results talk about cancer control as opposed to the term cure and getting that disease to stabilize and not progress; if we can do that it becomes an elegist to some of our other chronic diseases.” Though it isn’t talked about much, surgical methods have also improved, he adds: “When we detect cancer early before it has spread we can cure it more frequently, so early detection, prevention and conventional therapy used early on are very important steps.”

So while it may be “attractive” to search for a cure for advanced cancers, there are many other, more practical ways to diminish the burden of cancer, concludes Harold Varmus, the current director of the National Cancer Institute.

More Resources:

Article about a breakthrough new cancer detection technology.

The views expressed here are solely those of the participants, and do not represent the views of Big Think or its sponsors.


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