Cancer research and prevention. How's it going?

For at least the last 6 years (and likely long before that, too), it seems that every couple of days I see another eye-grabbing headline about some sort of medical discovery or research breakthrough that promises to reduce/eliminate some form of cancer, or at the very least to “open new possibilities”. The latest one is this one, which states “Scientists … report that they have found a specific strain of Helicobacter pylori strongly correlated with stomach cancer”. What a promising discovery!

However, I seldom see any milestone treatments or preventions that come from these breakthroughs. What is the current state of cancer research and science? Are we making much headway on being able to treat or eliminate various forms of cancer, or are these articles largely exaggerating the likely impacts of these discoveries?

Edit: What I’m curious about is some sort of tangible or recognizable statistic. Whether, in the last 20 years, we’ve managed to ‘solve’ or prevent 40% of cancers, or is it closer to 1%?

If it didn’t have another eye-grabbing headline", they wouldn’t put it in the news.
They’re in the business of selling readers to advertisers, so whatever grabs readers is what they’ll print. Any accurate context is at the very bottom of the article, if it’s included at all.

Don’t look at news media for accurate medical research news. Your doctor will tell you when there is an actual drug or treatment that’s relevant to you. Until then, ignore those articles.

One thing is that there are over 100 cancers. A lot of these “breakthroughs” only apply to one or a few cancers (often fairly rare).

These articles have been appearing for decades. Basically slow progress. Perhaps someone can find better numbers, but:

So while an increase from 50% to 68% over decades is significant and well worth doing, it doesn’t correspond to what we think of when we hear the word breakthrough (of which according to the media there have been hundreds in these decades).

One of the big breakthroughs for at least some cancers is immunotherapy, in which the genetic characteristics of a particular cancer is used to target an immune response against it.

My brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer last November, which has a median survival time of 8 months, and five-year mortality of 98%. He received immunotherapy in December, which had been approved as a treatment only a few months before. He was examined in March and his cancer was undetectable.

There are a number of general mechanisms that can be used to specifically target cancerous cells such as immunotherapy that Colibri mentions, or aromatase inhibitors that ‘starve’ cancers of the hormones they need to grow, in contrast to more generalistic treatments such as radiotherapy or cytototoxic chemotherapy. Such mechanisms have shown great promise in targetted therapy that eliminates or controls the cancer while doing less harm to the rest of the body, and many cancers have gone from having a nearly negligible five year survival rate (barring spontaneous remissions that occur without explanation) to having an appreciable survival rate, some even exceeding 90%. This is a medical achievment on par with the development of broad spectrum antibiotics, and second only to vaccination in turning once lethal or debilitating medical conditions into a comparative minor inconvenience.

However, there will never be a “cure for cancer” just as there will never be a universal vaccine for all viruses. Cancers are all alike in that they cause abnormal and uncontrolled growth of indigenous somatic cells, but that is the only characteristic that they share; the actual mechanisms by which they propagate, and how they can be slowed or stopped are generally different.


It’s not just about selling newspapers. The research laboratories concerned are competing for funding; without evidence of some b̶r̶e̶a̶k̶t̶h̶r̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ progress, they will lose whatever is available to some m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶p̶r̶o̶m̶i̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ better-publicised activity.

And often, the new techniques really are promising. It’s just that reality often breaks its promises.

I wonder if that figure is inflated by earlier or better cancer detection.

We are going to revolutionize the treatment of some cancers — my company, Zap Surgical Systems, founded by Dr. John R. Adler. Our very first Zap-X system is installed in Phoenix and we are getting ready to treat our very first patient.

It is an exciting time to be with the company.

Our very first Zap-X system is installed in Phoenix and we are getting ready to zap* our very first patient.

Hereis a good summary written by a psychiatrist and blogger.

Similar story with a close friend of mine who was diagnosed last year with a very aggressive type of bladder cancer. He’s had a number of immunotherapy treatments and so far his cancer appears to be ‘gone’, but he has met other people who have been cancer free for 20 years and then it suddenly pops back up out of nowhere. The problem is even though they will tell you it’s “undetectable”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely gone from your body. Only that the amount of cancer is below their detection levels… but that’s still a good thing to hear.

Hey, if nothing else, those 20 years when the cancer was “undetectable” were 20 years that the patient was alive.