Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
The Single Cure Myth – When I was thirteen years old, I was bright-eyed and idealistic. Despite the fact that I had lost my aunt the year before to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, I had turned that grief into determination – I was going to grow up and find THE cure for cancer. Little did I know at that time that it isn’t quite so simple.
All we have to do is look at our social media feeds to see a “news story” that has been shared about why we don’t have THE cure. I’ve seen it all – from big pharma not wanting a cure due to the possible loss of a lucrative business, to the US government hiding a cure developed in Canada. I’m not joking on that last one – I really did see that. For the most part, when I see items like these shared, I just scroll on, but I have wanted to talk about this for a while. The truth of the matter is that my thirteen-year-old heart was misinformed – we are not likely to find a single cure for all of cancer, as cancer is a broad term used to describe a bevy of diseases with myriad causes.
So, what exactly is cancer?
Cancer is a broad term that describes abnormal and out-of-control growth of cells within our bodies, of which there are quite literally hundreds of types. A decent analogy would be to talk about all members of the family Canidae. This family describes the domestic dog, but also, wolves, foxes, and coyotes to name a few. Some of these canines are easier to control than others (think about a pack of wolves versus a golden retriever), just as some forms of cancer are more difficult to overcome.
As most of us know, these diseases have many causes, some of which we don’t even know about yet. While we know, for example, that asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, we don’t know exactly why some people that have been exposed develop the disease, while others don’t. See Mesothelioma Causes & Risk Factors for more information on this cancer caused by environmental exposure. When I developed thyroid cancer, it wasn’t a huge shock, as I knew that I had a greater than average chance due to my history of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other forms of cancer carry genetic predispositions such as BRCA positive forms of breast and ovarian cancer. Strains of human papilloma virus have been shown to cause cervical cancer. Still some forms of cancer have unknown causes.
Why can’t we have THE cure?
You may think, “Hang on Kathryn, you just said that cancers are abnormal and out-of-control growths. Can’t we just find a silver bullet that takes care of these, regardless of the cause?” Good question. When my aunt was sick, my mom explained standard chemotherapy to me in this fashion – it attacks the fastest growing cells in the body, a category which cancer cells fall into, but so do things like our hair, skin, and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. As you can imagine, a systemic treatment like this has far reaching side effects not only on our hair, but other body systems. With wide spread treatments such as these – collateral damage, so to speak – can occur.
Simply put, a single cure for all cancers isn’t at this time feasible due to the fact that they are not all one disease. What works on one disease, isn’t effective against others. Think about how amoxicillin works against a case of strep throat, but not against influenza. Both may cause a sore throat, but the different causes require different treatments.
What is being done?
Even though at this time, we aren’t likely to find the one, all-encompassing cure that I dreamt of as a teen, there are fantastic advances being made. In our talks about Immunotherapy and Cancer, we discussed the fact that there are 241 immunotherapy drugs currently in clinical trials for cancer use. One of these trials, with metastatic breast cancer, has seen a patient cancer free for 22 months!
What can we do?
While there are some things that we can’t control such as genetics, or past asbestos exposure, we can do our best to live healthy lifestyles. Limiting our exposures to known carcinogens in pesticides, building materials (asbestos is still out there in older buildings), and tobacco are huge ways to improve our odds in the fight against cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight via diet and exercise also help to make sure your body is in prime condition.
If you have been stricken by one of these terrible diseases, take a look at our page for Newly Diagnosed cancer patients and for clinical trials. One of the best things that you can do for yourself is to have an open and honest relationship with your doctor. Be your own best advocate!
The bottom line here is this – when you see those posts on social media saying that Country XYZ has found THE cure, or a pharma company is sitting on THE cure – take it with a grain of salt. Researchers are working diligently day in and day out to find cures for these afflictions.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!