Scientists cure cancer but no-one notices

The Cancer Research UK Science Update Blog has published an excellent post by Kat Arney on cancer conspiracies – here it is, plus some other excellent pieces:

A light microscopic image of human cells (HeLa) - predominantly green on a black background. The cells appear 'hairy' with many green protrusions. Their centres (nuclei) are blue-purple with red blobs.
HeLa cells (tubulin in green, ki67 to show division readiness in red, DAPI DNA in blue) – image from EnCor Biotechnology via wikipedia

It prompted me to look back through my Posterous archive for something I remembered 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 since 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, or breast, skin and testicular 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 (such as non-aggressive prostate cancer).

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.

Black & white image of 6 people in lab coats. Text below.

“So you think thousands of pharmaceutical workers are willingly being quiet about cures for terrible diseases? If you think people are so easily bribed to be quiet while others, including their families, suffer and die, maybe that’s saying more about your own ethics than it is about theirs.” – skeptical meme society.

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 and to be ignored (see Sense About Science’s Ask for Evidence campaign that aims to address this).

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.

Treatments and cures for patients come from the following (including but not limited to):

  • researchers – present and all who have gone before
  • patients – people who need and have cancer treatment – who take part in trials, advocate for themselves and others, and engage in any way with the process;
  • support staff;
  • pharmacologists;
  • medical doctors;
  • nurses;
  • often surgeons; 
  • 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, vets and techs,
  • and many 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.

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 and the standard ignore advice applies.

31 thoughts on “Scientists cure cancer but no-one notices

  1. Pingback: Healthy Evidence Forum | Purely a figment of your imagination

  2. Tylor


    If you are a cancer patient, know that with hemp oil that cancer can be cured, my cancer have been cured with this hemp oil.
    The cancer centre london have made this hemp oil available to all cancer patients world wide to get this hemp oil in affordable price and in order stop chemo and radiation surgeries which causes damages to the body cells and to eradicate cancer disease.

    Contact cancer centre london via email: to get your hemp oil for medication.

    Tylor Kennedy
    (Once cancer patient)
    Texas USA

    1. Funny because I work there and that’s not how our emails are written. Plus we don’t treat patients, the hospital does – it’s a research institute. So well done, bot or salesperson or deluded crusader, for further discrediting this cure-lie.

      Guzzling hemp oil is not a cure. Researchers are testing some specific compounds found in cannabis plants, properly, to find out if they might actually be useful to us. There is no conspiracy.

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  4. I’m having to trash a lot of “I used cannabis oil and it cured my [child’s] cancer, look up this man with a not at all suspect email address and you can use it too” type spam comments.
    I will not tolerate cancer quackery. It’s illegal, as well as immoral and dangerous. Go away.

    1. delia



  5. Elfo

    This is to testify to everyone who is suffering from any kind of cancer should contact cancer centre London for the cure of cancer with hemp oil and cannabis oil, my cancer was cure with hemp oil that was supplied to me from cancer centre London via email

  6. Tonero

    Pls do not apply for hemp oil in any of these e-mail addresses, they are all scams they will take your money and you will never get the medication.

  7. Black Metal Valkyrie

    People seem to think they know more than their doctors and other science professionals because Google, but I am grateful for researchers and doctors. I have dyscalculia so I could never do what you do, but I find it intensely admirable. You are everything I’m not (at least intellectually). PROPS! -salutes you-

  8. Black Metal Valkyrie

    I feel the need to say that people who want improved treatment for cancer do not believe they are immortal and not all people who get cancer are old. I know you know this, it’s just a problem I had with your wording. I am nitpicking, I know. Why do old people get more cancer? I am curious. How likely is someone to get cancer statistically? Does HRT and estrogen containing birth control cause cancer? Is it true drinking alcohol in moderation prevents cancer? Do you think there will ever be a sunscreen pill drug so I won’t have to get sunscreen on my clothes by accident anymore? I heard about a development of such a pill in England in 2011, it was all over the media but no update since. Can coq10 supplementation cause cancer because it gives the mitochondria more energy and it might go out of control? Do you think cancer will ever be eradicated? How hopeful are the personalized cancer vaccine attempts? What hope does gene therapy hold? How often do you deal with alt med weirdos who demonize cancer researchers? Did you read the Science Based Medicine post about animal rights terrorists who terrorize researchers because they use animals? Hopefully this has no typos because I have CFS and I am too tired to edit properly. Does having CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) put me at a higher risk for cancer? My biggest worry is being sedentary because of post-exertional malaise. I need to not push myself at all so I can do normal life things like shopping, having a shower, reading a book etc. Did you cry when Ronnie James Dio died of cancer?

    1. Quickly I’m afraid, as you’ve just asked for a crash course in cancer biology!!
      – Old people get cancer because the route to cancer is through mutations in our DNA. These come about through 2 main routes: you’re born with them, or you acquire them in your lifetime.

      There needs to be about 7 important, disruptive mutations in order for cancer to get started. Most of the mutations we have won’t be in those important places, but if you’re born with one or two already, you’re well on your way; that’s why there are some syndromes that involve a very high incidence of cancer (like Li-Fraumeni, a mutation of p53, one of the main anti-cancer gatekeeper genes or “tumour suppressor genes”

      The more time you have on the Earth, the more you’re exposed to carcinogens; pollution, some of the chemicals we eat, the sun, breathing (our metabolism produced mutagenic compounds in small amounts, but enough that over time they can do damage – but don’t be taken in by antioxidant products, they’re crap).

      So that’s why cancer is one of the big killers of the aged – that and stroke (our blood vessels weaken over time) and heart disease (our blood vessels also get clogged up with fat over time when our diets aren’t great).

      – How likely statistically? Depends entirely on the type of cancer. We have over 200 types of cells and all the different organs they make up; cancer is different in each of them, and cancers in the same organ can vary hugely from individual to individual, and within one person. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to treat. Compare some kinds of skin cancer (on the surface, visible, easy to treat) with pancreatic or brain cancer (deep inside, symptoms can come very late when the cancer is already advanced, detected late and few available treatments).
      Check out Cancer Research UK’s Stats pages:

      – HRT and hormone-modifying treatments can have a small effect on cancer, but for most things it’s not too concerning. A lot of women get post-menopausal cancers, that’s partly a factor of age and some cancers (breast etc.) can be hormone-dependent. It’s a pretty complex question.

      – Drinking alcohol in moderation wouldn’t have any appreciable effect on cancer, it’s important not to drink a lot as that will override any benefit and replace it with increased risk of mouth, oesophageal, liver, pancreatic and bowel cancers.

      – I doubt there would ever be a sunscreen pill, it doesn’t make biological sense to me, but it’s not something I’ve seen any research on.

      – I wouldn’t advise CoQ10 supplements but I’d also have thought they’d just be broken down during digestion, rather than providing more food to mitochondria than our everyday diet. Another scam for the most part.

      – I’d be surprised if we were ever completely free of cancer, but treatment and prevention are getting better over time – a more realistic goal is to make it something we live with and die with, but not something that kills us. To manage it.

      – Cancer vaccines are already pretty successful, in the case of for example HPV – but that’s because if you can prevent a virus that can cause cancer, you can therefore prevent the cancer it sometimes causes. Vaccines directly against cancer might also work, if they can ‘train’ our immune system to more effectively hunt down cancer cells (it ‘eats up’ lots of tiny cancers anyway, but at some point some develop the ability to hide from the scouts and grow out of control). Immune system re-education is a really cool field, but I’m a bit rubbish at immunology. Maybe I’ll get a guest post.

      – Gene therapy is tough because it’s so hard to target. I reckon it has legs for the future though.

      – There are a lot of alt med weirdos. Everywhere. All the time.

      – I’ve not seen anything about a link between CFS and cancer.

      – I haven’t heard of that person, sorry.

      1. Black Metal Valkyrie

        Ronnie James Dio was a singer who died of stomach cancer. That’s exciting there is a future for anti-cancer vaccines. Thanks for telling me the coq10 is bunk, its really expensive so I don’t want to buy it especially if it has no chance of helping. There was a post on SBM saying it has some legit uses so I thought it might help but maybe they make prescription coq10 that would help me, I will have to look into it. My doctor at the state funded “complimentary care clinic” they send you to because they don’t know what to do with you supports bullshit and he suggested the supplements coq10 and d-ribose. I don’t believe in supplements but I bought coq10 anyways because I am desperate because there is nothing they can do for CFS. I was kind of offended when my doctor suggested a naturopath. I hate how people with poorly understood conditions are taken advantage of by quacks, its really exploitative, also insulting how the clinic also treats people with “multiple chemical sensitivity” which is fake. I still go though because they have an OT, psychologist, dietitian and doctor there. I wasn’t sure if it was true diet as an effect on health. I know it sounds stupid. Thank for helping me understand biology a little better. ^^ So some kinds of cancers you might be more likely to get because of HRT? Now I am scared to get cancer because I don’t eat healthy cuz I’m poor and exhausted all the time but I will try harder. Thank you for your awesome answer! What chemicals we eat cause cancer?

      2. Black Metal Valkyrie

        Thank you for answering my stupid questions! I am a high school drop out but I am pretty good at identifying pseudoscience.

    1. Nope. Cells ‘eat’ whatever is available, and the cells in the centre of solid tumours are dying because they lack oxygen. When cells lack oxygen they switch to anaerobic respiration (making energy without using oxygen). Aerobic (+oxygen) is a lot more efficient at making energy than anaerobic. Eating less sugar won’t make a bit of difference to cancer, though; it takes what it can regardless, and eating less sugar will just make you more tired overall because you’re depriving your entire body.

      Anyone who says ‘[don’t] eat this to stop your cancer’ is lying and does not understand what they are talking about, and put lives at risk, cause people suffering – and might be making money while they’re at it. So that’s nice, isn’t it.

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  11. Could you explain then why the Pharmaceutical industry in the US has spent more than $880 million dollars over the past ten years funding “anti-cannabis” groups?

    Perhaps in the UK Pharma is a tad bit more “noble” than in the US, but there is empirical evidence that Pharma has spent vasts amount of money suppressing pro-cannabis policy as well as an active government policy that suppresses research into the potential benefits of cannabis as was admitted by NIDA.

    This is only changing now after years of advocacy, however, you can’t ignore the ills of Big Pharma especially when there is a paper trail.

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