Does “Curing” Cancer Kill Patients?

Patients and politicians increasingly demand a “cure” for cancer. But there is mounting evidence indicating that eradication of most cancers may not only be impossible, but that attempting to do so could be harmful, and that controlling the disease may prove to be a better strategy than striving to cure it.

TAMPA – Patients and politicians increasingly demand a “cure” for cancer. But controlling the disease may prove to be a better strategy than striving to cure it. 

A century ago, the German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich introduced the concept of “magic bullets” – compounds engineered to target and kill tumor cells or disease-causing organisms without affecting normal cells. The success of antibiotics 50 years later seemed to validate Ehrlich’s idea. So influential have medicine’s triumphs over bacteria been that the “war on cancer” continues to be driven by the assumption that magic bullets will one day be found for tumor cells if the search is sufficiently clever and diligent.

Yet lessons learned in dealing with exotic species, combined with recent mathematical models of the evolutionary dynamics of tumors, indicate that eradicating most cancers may be impossible. Trying to do so, moreover, could worsen the problem.  

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