By: Nick Swafford
Cancer. One of the most tense subjects there is. A virulent and vast number of diseases that cause seemingly unrelenting tumors in essentially any part of the body. In the United States, it is estimated that a total of nearly 600,000 people die from cancer every year. I have learned first-handed the kind of damage that cancer can cause and how important finding a cure to it is. The importance is evident in today’s society as we sometimes exaggerate people’s abilities by comparing their accomplishments to “finding the cure for cancer.” Whether or not anyone can live up to that expectation of “curing” cancer, is unfortunately debatable.
Let’s start at the beginning. What even is cancer? Cancers, at their most basic level, are cells that mutate and spread throughout the body. Though, sadly, they don’t employ the mystical powers of X-Men. The mutated cells start dividing rapidly with no intentions of stopping, and soon enough, there are bumps, rashes, and even tumors created from these cells. Now, because there’s such a large number of different cancers, I can’t definitively say what symptoms the said tumors will cause, but if these cancerous cells continue unchecked, then it may become terminal.
See, “curing” cancer is a lot easier said than done. Of course we have a wide variety of treatments for people dealing with cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or even targeted therapy—some of which I have even had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand. Treating cancerous cells is not the same as “curing” cancer because the treatments we have today aren’t foolproof, and there are many cases of the cancer recurring and the patients relapsing. A cure would have to ensure the patient a full recovery, but as that is highly unlikely to come to pass in the near future, we settle for control over cancer.
We can’t easily cure cancer for multiple reasons—one of them being that cancer doesn’t find pleasure in staying the same. Cancer cells evolve as they mutate, making them extremely hard to pin down with medicines. Surgery is the most effective way to remove the tumor from the infected area, and other methods like chemotherapy, radiation, and newer forms of treatments are there to ensure that the cancer is controlled. Cancer cells are very slippery, however, and have the astounding ability to hide from treatments until they want to present themselves once more. This may be why billions of dollars are being spent on finding cures to all the various kinds of cancer. Creating cures is a little tricky, however, as the treatment has to meet a whole lot of guidelines and restrictions set forth by the FDA. Even besides the strict FDA’s rules One of the more modern treatments that has passed through is Immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new procedure that boosts the patient’s own immune system enough to attack the mutating cells. They do this by either enhancing the antibodies the body makes naturally or by infusing a lab-made antibody into the patient’s body. These natural or unnatural antibodies boost the immune system and make it target the cancer cells, resulting in the body preventing tumor growth or movement and making the destruction of cancer cells easier for the immune system.
There are still many developments rolling in about cancer research at this moment. Just this week, a Nobel Prize was awarded to a group of researchers who worked on the development of T-cells, a certain type of white blood cell that they manipulated to attack cancerous cells. And although Immunotherapy may be the new answer to all cancers, it’s definitely not the answer to people’s wallets. Cancer treatments already cost a whole lot, but the price is still shooting through the roof. Prices today in America can reach upwards of $250,000, which is four times more than the average American household’s annual income. To make matters worse, there’s no sign of the prices dropping in the near future because of the lack of price regulation the American government has on the drugs that drug producers sell. With prices like this, many people can’t even afford the treatment they need, much less cutting-edge technologies like Immunotherapy that has starting costs near $100,000.
Harvard University is also making great strides in cancer research, and they are even as bold as to say that within the next ten years, they will come out with a reliable cure. Lead researcher Hana Ward even put her team to a timeline, telling reporters, “We’ve all put it in our calendars, so we should be good to go. As soon as we’re done with this press conference, it’s going to be all curing cancer all the time. We urge Americans to remind us of our commitment and really hold our feet to the fire about this to ensure we’re not slacking off. To be on the safe side, we’d recommend that you check back in with us in five years or so to make sure we’re still on track.” Those are very grueling terms to commit to, and whether or not they will meet such monumental expectations that no one else has in the past is up for debate, as only time will tell. With our fingers crossed however, we can hope that they achieve this task, even though the researchers gave little evidence of how they plan on accomplishing it.
I am truly hopeful with all of these recent medical discoveries that some cancers will be able to be fully controllable and maybe at some point down the line, preventable. As I experienced cancer myself, I know the destruction cancer can cause, not only because I had it, but because I’ve witnessed the death of several family friends due to the damage dealt by cancer. One of my family’s close friends died on Christmas morning, turning what is usually a fun-filled holiday into a hollow and remorseful one for her loved ones. Deaths caused by cancer are no extraordinary thing either, and to prevent events like this from happening, we must band together and find a way to stop the tragedies cancer causes. In terms of cancer, every little bit helps.