The War on Cancer, New Drugs
Over the last few weeks there have been back-to-back announcements that President Bush's spokesman and the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards are battling recurrences of cancer. It is not my wish to talk about their personal struggles or their personal choices on how they deal with the disease other than to wish the two of them and their families the best of possible outcomes.
That said, I do feel a need to respond to the ever growing number of editorial writers and bloggers who are, based on these stories, calling for a renewed war on cancer so that we can find new drugs and new forms of chemotherapy that rid us of this horrible disease. I have several problems with this.
- First of all, none of the drugs, chemotherapy treatments, radiation, or surgery used actually deal with the cause of the cancer – merely with one place it manifests. Or to put it in terms I've used before: “no one gets cancer because they are suffering from a chemotherapy deficiency.” Think about that for a moment. Once you understand the concept, you can no longer express surprise that cancer returns at a later date if you opt for any of these treatments. After all, you never did anything to get rid of the underlying cause. It's still there, just waiting for another chance to reemerge.
- Chemotherapy drugs are known carcinogens. If you use a chemotherapy drug to get rid of a cancer, why would you be surprised that you might find another cancer down the road?
- Everybody, every single day of their lives, produces cancer cells as part of the normal metabolic process. You can never stop that. By definition, then, a war on cancer is unwinnable. It's the same thing as declaring war on your own body!
- Does that mean we should give up? Not at all. Cancer is fundamentally a disease of the immune system. A properly functioning immune system can identify each and every one of those aberrant cells and eliminate them from the body – provided the immune system is strong enough and provided we're not ingesting so many cancer promoting toxins that we overload our immune system's capacity to handle them.
The future in cancer research lies not in a renewed war, but on working with the body. Immunotherapy treatments that work to enhance the body's natural defenses and that are now in experimental use are a good start. But why not just enhance what the body does naturally to prevent the cancer from appearing (or returning, as the case my be) in the first place?