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I've become convinced that cancer is among the elite series of diseases that are, in many cases, just how people die, meaning that perhaps in many instances the medical term for "dying" is "cancer". I think it is naive to ever think we'll have a general cure, especially since "cancer" covers such a broad range of specific issues.

I understand that people die in other ways too, of course, but I think cancer is a common agent that is just how dying works. It's like getting gray hairs -- you can do things to try and stop or cover it up (and some people will get old without much graying), people can fantasize about a fountain of youth that will keep your body at age 21 forever, but the reality is that graying is just part of aging and nothing is going to change that despite any realistic effort that humans can put in. Cancer is part of dying for many, many people. It's not going to go away despite our best efforts to mitigate its effects or eradicate it entirely.

I once read the supposed confession of a medical research assistant that "cancer" as a general thing is not curable but they keep the myth alive because "cure cancer" makes a really decent slogan.




  I've become convinced that cancer is among the elite series of diseases that are, 
  in many cases, just how people die, meaning that perhaps in many instances the medical 
  term for "dying" is "cancer".
Our bodies are machines. Biological and very complex machines, but still they follow a system of rules and their functions are defined in machine code. Cancer is a certain type of crash that can befall these machines, literally. As the cells are executing their DNA code, an error creeps into its daily routine.

There is a variety of reasons those bugs can come up: for example, the codebase could have a pre-existing weakness that gets triggered in certain conditions. Sometimes, the code was copied incorrectly from one cell to its successor. Sometimes an external influence corrupts the local copy of the code.

When cellular code develops a bug, there are a number of things that can happen: sometimes, the cell just becomes bad or inefficient at what it does. Sometimes it shuts down. Sometimes, nothing happens. And other times the bug introduces an infinite loop in the cell's replication subroutines - that's cancer.

You see, cancer is neither a medical catchall term nor is it an inevitability of life. In fact, our immune system regularly attacks crashed cells, including cancer cells. If it didn't we'd all be having cancer at a very early age. However, sometimes due to the nature of the bug, the immune system is incapable of recognizing that a cell has crashed. That's when cancer breaks out, because those cells replicate and the immune system doesn't stop them. This is also precisely the point where the most promising treatment options are. We are just now figuring out how to teach the immune system to recognize those crashed cells and once we advance this research enough, we'll have the capability to simply correct these flaws in our systems and get rid of the bug completely.

  I once read the supposed confession of a medical research assistant that "cancer"
  as a general thing is not curable but they keep the myth alive because "cure cancer" 
  makes a really decent slogan.
For your sake, I really hope you don't believe this nonsense. It's right up there with "the Earth is flat" and "God did it".

EDIT: After re-reading my post, I realize that it could be perceived as condescending - but I assure you, it's not supposed to be. It's just intended as a short programmer-friendly introduction into the nature of cancer.


Especially since we as a species have eliminated so many other "natural" causes of death thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, sanitation etc. What we are left with are what we have not yet solved: cancer, heart disease and strokes (mostly). http://imgur.com/6d3lK

Cancer also becomes naturally more likely as time goes on and DNA has become more damaged so as our lifespans increase, so do the odds of getting cancer.


I wouldn't agree that cancer is just a fact of life. Here's why:

1. Young people get cancer, when they are otherwise healthy.

2. Cancer is subject to epidemiological trends suggesting that there are definite causes related to lifestyle or the environment.

3. You can reduce your risk of cancer/dying of cancer by not smoking, exercise, maintaining a normal body weight, and participating in screening programs. There are no guarantees of course.

4. Some cancers are curable eg testicular cancer can be cured even if widespread, with chemotherapy. Also Hodgkin's lymphoma and of course early stage cancer of the breast and bowel.

Incidentally, Steve Jobs had a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour, which is distinct from the normal run of the mill pancreatic cancer that has a poorer prognosis.


It seems like the statement of (1) is an admission that we aren't accurate at evaluating whether someone is "healthy" or "not healthy" to an acceptable level yet, since I would include precursors to cancer in my "healthy" classification.


Cancer's definitely more of a specific thing than you think, as other comments have pointed out, but it is more or less a common failure mode of mammals, and statistically, it will eventually happen to you if nothing else does.


PHD Comics making a similar statement: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1162


You're right, cancer is not just one disease.

Aging will probably get solved relatively soon, as will cancer, we just need the technology.

http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_ag...




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