Almost everyone knows someone who has had cancer in the past, and nearly all of us will know someone who will get cancer in the future. It’s an incredibly complex and devastating disease, and it’s inspired generations of researchers and medical scientists to try and find a cure for the disease.
But here’s the thing—a cure for cancer may not be possible, and if it is, it may not exist in a form we’d hope.
Existing Cancer Treatments
There are several cancer treatment methods available today, including chemotherapy—the process of using drugs to prevent cancer cells from dividing and growing. Approaches vary depending on the nature of the cancer being treated and the natural defenses or preferences of the person being treated. Of course, chemotherapy is just one method of cancer treatment; there are many diverse ways to treat cancer, including surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and integrative medicine.
Still, these treatment methods are frequently intended to stave off the development of cancer, or remove it in its current form, rather than “curing” the disease. This is because treatment may be our best hope of mitigating the harmful effects of cancer, without any real cure in sight.
The Unique Threat of Cancer
There isn’t currently a cure for cancer, nor will there likely be a cure in our lifetimes, for several reasons:
- Myriad forms. We use the term “cancer” to describe any disease where the body’s cells divide abnormally, eventually forming tumors that interfere with the body’s natural function. It’s a convenient way to categorize these diseases, but the reality is, there are hundreds of types of cancer. Cancer types vary based on the location of the body they affect, the stage of development they’re in, and when and how they manifest. This makes a singular cure for cancer practically impossible.
- Bodily origins. Cancer also occurs within the body, affecting the body’s own Though root causes vary, many types of cancer occur after a rogue mutation in one or more of the body’s cells result in the formation of a cancerous tumor. While it’s occasionally easy to distinguish between affected cells and non-affected cells, it’s difficult to find a treatment method that can eradicate only the affected cells. Almost every existing treatment method has some kind of side effect on the healthy cells that surround the affected ones, making them imperfect and, at times, risky.
- Constant evolution. The number and diversity of cancer types isn’t static; it’s constantly changing. In the unlikely event that we discover a “cure” for cancer in all its current forms, it would only be a matter of time before some new form of cancer undermines that cure, or before a current form mutates to become resilient to that treatment. Accordingly, even our best efforts would be forced to evolve over time to remain relevant indefinitely.
- Unnatural as it might seem, there’s a reason cancer is so common. In fact, if you live long enough, it’s a practical certainty you’ll develop cancer eventually. The cells in our body are constantly dividing, and any cell division has a chance to spawn a mutation. With trillions of cells undergoing a process we barely understand, it’s simply not feasible to come up with a method that can prevent cancer from emerging and developing.
Sources of Hope
That said, there are some reasons to be hopeful about our future understanding and methods of treating cancer:
- Better treatments. First, we’ll be able to come up with better treatment methods. Sometimes, that will mean modifying existing treatment methods to make them less invasive or more effective. Other times, that will mean inventing new methods that target different types of cancer or target cancerous cells in new ways. It’s hard to say exactly how these treatments will manifest, but there’s significant room for growth in this area.
- Living with cancer. Instead of trying to cure cancer, researchers will shift their focus to helping patients live with cancer. These treatment methods and therapies will enable people to live more of a “normal” life while undergoing cancer treatment and struggling with the disease. It could also prolong lifespans.
- Preventative measures. Research will also focus on understanding the root causes of cancer, so people can establish better habits and lifestyles to reduce the risk of cancer, rather than merely trying to reactively respond once it develops. We already know some surefire strategies to mitigate cancer risk, and our knowledge will increase significantly in the years to come.
Could there ever be a cure for cancer? It’s possible, but seems highly unlikely, considering the nature of the disease. Instead, researchers will likely continue directing their attention toward better treatment methods and options for living with the disease, as well as discovering and following preventative strategies.