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Medicine Biotech

Why a Cure For Cancer Is So Elusive 366

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "George Johnson writes in the NYT that cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death and although cancer mortality has actually been decreasing bit by bit in recent decades, the decline has been modest compared with other threats. The diseases that once killed earlier in life — bubonic plague, smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis — were easier obstacles. For each there was a single infectious agent, a precise cause that could be confronted. But there are reasons to believe that cancer will remain much more resistant because it is not so much a disease as a phenomenon, the result of a basic evolutionary compromise. As a body lives and grows, its cells are constantly dividing, copying their DNA — this vast genetic library — and bequeathing it to the daughter cells. They in turn pass it to their own progeny: copies of copies of copies. Along the way, errors inevitably occur. Some are caused by carcinogens but most are random misprints. Mutations are the engine of evolution. Without them we never would have evolved. The trade-off is that every so often a certain combination will give an individual cell too much power. It begins to evolve independently of the rest of the body and like a new species thriving in an ecosystem, it grows into a cancerous tumor. 'Given a long enough life, cancer will eventually kill you — unless you die first of something else (PDF). That would be true even in a world free from carcinogens and equipped with the most powerful medical technology,' concludes Johnson. 'Maybe someday some of us will live to be 200. But barring an elixir for immortality, a body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it. And for each added year, more mutations will have accumulated. If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer.'"
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Why a Cure For Cancer Is So Elusive

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  • Oh, cancer is an evolutionary compromise of multi-cellular life? Yeah, right. It's a product of mutation, but it runs counter to reproductive fitness, and it's not like our bodies don't have immune systems which reject other foreign (differently mutated) cells, so, Checkmate, moron.

    If cancer is so damn inherent in the very fabric of complex life then we probably wouldn't find any species on the planet that doesn't get cancer... Like Naked Mole Rats. [] Some studies I've seen suggest cancer has less to do with an evolution-wide compromise, and instead may have something to do with the fact we have live young [] -- Which isn't intrinsic to complex life. Compared to labor and live delivery this seems a bit of a back-asswards path; Probably a product of having too big of a brain to be as overcome with instinctual drives as is required for protecting a nest, but not a big enough brain to build artificial incubators with automated laser defense systems. Well, that and maybe an advantage to survive in colder climates, or migrate during gestation. Then again isn't there eggs in Antarctica -- Penguins, eh?

    So, no. Cancer exists because our immune system isn't picky enough, you dolt. Just like we use gene therapy to cure extreme allergy "bubble boy" types when they're young, we'll likely eventually be able to fix up our immune system with a way to sick our own white blood cells on cancer, or cause our bodies to produce anti-cancer sugar in our cellular matrix like the naked mole-rats do.

    So, yeah, it seems this fool is just ignorant of the very field they're researching. That's what happens when you over-specialize: You're likely to think your own studies are so damn important that you develop a penchant for making grandiose claims that seem moronic to everyone else even remotely in the know. When combined with a largely ignorant populace (who specialized in other fields) it's a breeding ground for this sort of stupidity.

  • Re:Bollocks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fools Gold ( 3486579 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @07:14PM (#45873881)
    Death certificates are a very poor indicator of cause of death. The battle between Cancer and Apoptosis is one theory. It has some merit to it, but it also seems that tumors can be viewed as a fundamental form of life similar to a fetus having its own blood supply and largely anaerobic environment. We keep finding various pathogens in tumors and declare them to be likely causes but are probably a result not a cause. We treat "tumor burden" by lowering the number and size of tumors but we have no idea if this extends the length of life by one second or not or improves the quality of the patient's life at all. We yammer about Free Radicals but make no progress investigating its role in driving the apoptosis pathway.
  • by Guru80 ( 1579277 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:51PM (#45874917)

    I have a feeling that one day in the distant future people will read our current understanding of cancer as laid out in the summary and shake their heads that our understanding was ever so limited the same way we do when reading how bleeding patients out was the cure for just about everything in ancient times.

    Also, agreed with a Cold Fjord post and if I have learned anything from the /. is that is an unforgivable use of mod points (or something like that)

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:09PM (#45875055) Homepage

    "runs counter to reproductive fitness"

    Wrong. There is a huge reproductive fitness bonus for getting old useless people out of the way as quickly as possible, and more specifically a huge natural selection bonus for death after some maximum amount of years. Death is one of the major pillars of natural selection, and cancer, in many species plays a big part to ensure that we do not too many people living to 80-100+ or comparable.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford