Over the years though we have heard about an expanding range of stories, pending breakthroughs, cutting-edge research. All of which, suggest that we are poised for victory in our war with cancer. Unfortunately, sometime the use of a metaphor may be problematic. Cancer is actually hundreds of diseases, sharing a common attribute of uncontrolled cell growth. However, the causes and dynamics between the different forms of cancer are dramatically different.
The danger for any one story that hits the headlines is that it often creates unrealistic expectations. There is a long path between promising research and effective clinical treatments. The path to clinical use is many years, typically 7 to 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars in trials and follow-up research. And even after a new treatment receives FDA approval it has to stand the test of the market place. And to add to the confusion, the majority of promising research does not end providing effective treatments. Why? It is the nature of scientific research. Most research leads to dead ends and blind alleys. But that is what it takes, brilliant people, working on insight and intuition, marshalling the forces – money, personnel, dedication – willing to pursue an idea – even if it fails. And a certain amount of the time, it does pays off. And breakthroughs do occur that show up in doctors’ offices and hospitals around the world.
But here is the positive side. We are gaining on cancer. More and more cancer is becoming a manageable chronic disease, like diabetes. In most cases our patients can look forward to many years of a happy and fruitful life.
So let’s keep following the research. But we just need to keep a perspective on it. While no one treatment will probably provide the “cure”, we are heading in the right direction in our strategic conquest of the disease.