The miracle cure for cancer is not being hidden from you

Cancer is a horrendous disease that takes a toll not only on the patients but also their family and friends. Even with the best treatments and care, some cancers still have a high mortality rate. For example, pancreatic cancer has a mortality rate of 93%. A cancer diagnosis has a lot of emotion tied to it, and with the high mortality rates, high cost of treatment, and potential long treatment time, many people may think that there should be a miracle cure and that perhaps it is being hidden from them. This is completely and utterly untrue.

Before we begin we must understand what cancer is. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells in your body. These cells can form tumors that rob nearby cells of nutrients and damage surrounding tissues. These cells lose control of their growth because of mutations in your DNA. The mutations that usually lead to cancer are in genes that control how much a cell can grow, how fast it grows, how many times it can divide or reproduce, when or if it dies, its ability to move throughout the body, and its ability to get grow new blood vessels to gather nutrients. Once a cell collects enough of these mutations it becomes cancer.

Cancer is a downright complex disease. There are well over 100 different types of cancer affecting different organs within the body. Within a single organ there can be many different cancers, for example there are over 7 different cancers affect the lymphatic system, 6 different types of brain cancer, and at least 6 different cancers of the blood. Even within the same type of cancer there can be 10,00 or more important mutations that make each cancer in different patients unique. Some of these mutations make the cancer resistant to certain drugs, some make them hard to kill, and some allow the cancer cells to hide in places around the body. Frighteningly still, scientists have found that within one tumor from one patient a wide range of mutations exist in different regions of the tumor. In this study the scientists sampled the tumor in 300 different places and saw over 100 million different mutations. Not all these mutations contribute to the cancer but it goes to show how diverse each tumor can be and how diverse even the different areas of a tumor can be. This leads me to the first point about the miracle cure for cancer.

  • There is no single treatment or drug for every cancer out there and there will likely never be one. The potential number of mutations that you could target or could affect how your drug works makes it nearly mathematically impossible. If we just assumed there were a max of 10,000 different mutations a cancer cell could have and that a cell only needed 10 of these mutations to become cancerous then there are 2.47×1033 different combinations of mutations that could lead to cancer. In other words, 2,470,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The chance that one drug would target all of those? Probably 0. In fact, the number of mutations in cancer is likely to be greater than 10,00. This database shows all currently known mutations in cancer and there are about 59,00.

Since there are such a large number of possible combinations for mutations that cause cancer (and likely even more) it is inappropriate to think of cancer as a single disease. As such:

  • A treatment that works with one cancer is not going to work for all cancers. Even within those of the same variety since there can be so many different mutation combinations. For example, a set of 10 mutations in one person’s leukemia could be completely different from the set of mutations that make up someone else’s leukemia.

Aside from the statistical improbability that there is one cure for all cancer, it is also unlikely that the miracle cure is being hidden from you. Not all research being done is through big pharma or companies with commercial desires. Most of the cancer research is done by researchers at universities, grad students and post-doctoral fellows like myself. Researchers for whom discovering a universal cure to cancer would propel them into the job they are all struggling to get. Hiding such a result would only prevent them from getting a great job, finding fame for their lives, and making a living doing what they love. There is no incentive for them to hide the cure.

Also, everyone is susceptible to cancer, CEOs of pharma, government employees, the kids of these employees. Why would they hide the cure to something that is going to save the lives of their family members? The argument that they would make more money if they suppressed the cure for cancer is wrong. Cancer isn’t going anywhere, we will always have it and it will always need treating. Our body makes mistakes when it copies our DNA and we are constantly exposed to things that damage our DNA. Cancer isn’t going away so suppressing the cure isn’t making anyone more money than if the cure was released.

Finally, and probably the most important point:

  • We already have a cure for cancer, in fact we have over 200 different treatments for cancer. Some of them work better in some cancers than others. But people the world over are cured of cancer daily. Some of these drugs are new, more specific, and less toxic. Some of the drugs are old but tried and true. Some old drugs have new coatings that make them more specific for less side effects. Some treatments are designed based on a person’s combination unique cancerous mutations.

In final, there are many cures for cancer that exist and some work better than others. We will never eradicate cancer (which people confuse with curing) because we can’t avoid mutations in our DNA. In the future we may get better at detecting these mutations early so we can prevent cancerous cells from turning into severe cancer, but there will always be cancer and there will always be new research on ways to better treat it. This isn’t a conspiracy; it is the real world. Just because you hear someone say that compound X kills cancer cells doesn’t mean it works in all cancer cells. If you think it does, then you probably need to read this article: Evaluating scientific claims on the Internet.

I took the approach of talking about the biology of cancer and why there will never be one single cure but instead multiple cures. Here are some other good articles going over the details of the ‘conspiracy’ theory and why it falls apart under scrutiny:

I know I have shared this image before but it really makes a good point.

XKCD: Cells

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