Medical professionals have been researching cancer causes and treatments for years. But, as UT Austin professor Kevin Dalby explains, cancer is so much more difficult and complex to treat than other illnesses.
Cancer is a complex disease, and it presents in many forms. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to curtail. Here are some more details about why cancer is specifically more complicated to treat.
Reason #1. Cells Are Different
No two cancers are exactly alike. That’s one of the reasons why some cancers have a much higher survival rate than others.
Before this realization, it was assumed that all cells within a tumor would be the same. That’s why a biopsy of a small spot on a tumor was sufficient. Now, though, that has changed — allowing therapies and diagnostics to become more targeted.
Reason #2. Mutations Are Vast
Similarly, genetic mutations are so different and varied that the number of cancers that have been identified is more than 200. Each type of cancer is affected differently by a different mutation. Making matters more complicated, these mutations accumulate as a tumor grows.
This makes treating cancer on a general basis extremely difficult, as each case is very individual. Two people suffering from the same type of cancer could have utterly different tumor makeups and require completely different treatment plans.
Reason #3. Cells Don’t Die Easily
Cells that are healthy and operating normally can stop dividing or growing too much. The problem with cancer cells is that they don’t have these mechanisms to control themselves, for lack of better words.
Cancer cells are great at surviving. They are tough to kill permanently, making treating and eradicating cancer difficult.
Reason #4. Treatments Don’t Work Forever
Over the years, there have been tremendous advances in oncology, resulting in new targeted and more effective treatments than ever before. Despite this fact, not all treatments will work forever. Some stop working eventually over time.
Because cancer cells mutate so much, they respond to the treatments, making typical therapies less effective. In time, cancer cells can even develop a resistance to treatment, which makes it completely ineffective.
As a result, scientists constantly search for new ways to treat and fight cancer.
Reason #5. Cancer Cells Aren’t Always Easy to Find
Another reason why cancer is so difficult and complex to treat is because their cells aren’t always easily identifiable. Sometimes, the cells can stay hidden “in plain sight” from both the body’s immune system and medical professionals.
As Dr. Kevin Dolby explains, the longer the cells remain hidden, the more cancer can progress and the more difficult it becomes to treat it. Early detection is essential in cancer treatment, but it’s hard to fight what you cannot see.
About Dr. Kevin Dalby
Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. At the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, he examines the mechanisms of nature and cancer to develop new treatments and teach and motivate students to conduct research. Dalby is optimistic about the future of cancer treatments.