Today the Cancer Research UK Science Update Blog has published an excellent post by Kat Arney: “There’s no conspiracy – sometimes it just doesn’t work“. Edit: for follow-up, a post about the top 10 Cancer Myths by Kat and Olly. Must-read.
It has prompted me to look back through my posterous archive for something I remember writing but couldn’t find on here – about how offensive it is when people accuse us (people working in cancer research in any capacity) of being part of some great conspiracy to hide cures. I’ve edited it a bit as it’s from 2011.
Let us not forget that many people are living examples that we can and do cure cancer, it’s just difficult to define “cure” – 5 years free? 10? We all die of something. But particularly “treatable” diseases include some forms of leukaemia, breast cancer, skin cancer – surgical techniques, chemo- and radiotherapy have come a very long way in the last 50-60 years, since DNA was discovered and we started to learn a lot more about this hugely varied set of diseases.
There is no cure-all, however, no magic bullet. Cancer is hugely complicated and treatment options and success depend on where it is (what kinds of tissues and cells are involved), what caused it (cancer can have a hereditary [genes inherited from parents] basis but it can also be completely due to the environment, but most often a combination of the two) and which mutations are involved, amongst other things. It’s not one disease but many. Some forms like certain brain tumours, pancreatic and ovarian cancer are still very deadly. Others aren’t necessarily a death sentence but more of a condition that can be managed over time.
People are working all over the world on all the kinds of cancer we know about, from understanding things down at the cellular level up to making and optimising drugs and testing them on people, all the way to surgeons, doctors and nurses looking after the patients.
Everyone is affected by it, and recently (Ed: now some years ago!) I commented on a friend’s post about how offensive it is when the alt-med conspiracy crowd accuse ‘the man’ of suppressing cancer cures.
There are some, they’re out there and they are used. We’re looking for better ones. But be wary of miracle cures; they’re a waste of time and money. See Sense About Science’s Ask for Evidence campaign that aims to address this.
A silly article was doing the rounds when I originally posted this (May 15 2011) saying that some research group has found the cure to cancer and it’s a simple, freely-available chemical that messes with aerobic/anaerobic respiration.
The article is mostly nonsense, with some bits of basic biology thrown in that make a small amount of sense on their own, but not in the way they’re cobbled together here.
I wrote this on a friend’s facebook post after they called me to come and have a look:
1. Glycolysis does not immortalise cells by switching off the apoptosis (cell death) mechanism, that’s BS.
2. Cells become transformed (potentially cancerous) for very many reasons, the mitochondria aren’t usually directly involved, though suppression of apoptosis is one of about 7 conditions that need to be met for cancer to occur.
3. Metastasis (the process of cancer cells leaving the original tumour and travelling to elsewhere in the body, forming new tumours) is not due to lactic acid production. This is just crap.
4. Mitochondria aren’t “human cells”, they are human cell organelles; there are many within our cells. They produce our energy. Wikipedia can tell lots about those but whoever wrote this clearly doesn’t have a clue.
5. DCA may well be a useful chemotherapeutic agent in some cases, but one paper showing it kills some cancer cells in a dish and maybe shrinks rat tumours is not enough to trumpet to the world that there’s a cure for cancer. Our lab wrote a similar paper last year; it’s just one of many findings that needs to happen before a drug gets taken seriously, and if something is widely-available and non-patentable, it may not be grabbed up by Pfizer and co. but that doesn’t mean other people won’t still work on it (see curcumin/turmeric, for example).
Overall, the article is rubbish, ignore it!!
Ed: the same advice applies to any person on the internet who claims they can cure cancer. They can’t. No one person is ever responsible for this*, no one agent, no one dose or visit. Talk to people who have lived through it and they will confirm this. And don’t dare tell me or anyone I work with that we don’t want a cure to get out, just because we’d have to find another job.
*Edit: treatments and cures for patients come from the following (including but not limited to): researchers – present and all who have gone before – and support staff; pharmacologists; medical doctors; nurses; often surgeons; patients who take part in trials; clinical trial administrators; statisticians; investors (making drugs is really expensive); manufacturers (can’t do experiments without equipment); fundraisers (CRUK for example could not afford to fund the research it does without donors, from charity shoppers up to those who leave substantial amounts in wills), animals and techs, and no doubt more.
I know that I, and all my colleagues past and present, would happily find something else to do if it meant that no one had to suffer through cancer and/or the loss of loved ones. I’ve done it twice, most of us have experience of it, and insinuating that my paycheck is more important than life itself is one of the most insulting ideas I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear.