19 September 2009

Fighting a Losing War That Must Be Won

Once the “war on cancer” was declared in 1971 by Congress, researchers have sought to defeat it (1), but after losses of many knights in shining armor, a newfound respect has come around for this dragon of a disease (1). In the 1990s and 2000s, however, a new sense of hope had come about.

“End cancer by the year 2015” was the message shared in 2003 by Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). And although he’s had many critics saying it couldn’t be done, others joined him in saying it could. Just two years afterward, in 2005, NCI modified it’s lofty goal to a softer “alleviate pain, suffering and death associated with cancer” (2). The change meant a new direction of “controlling” but not “curing” the disease .

The same year, 2005, one Eschenbach supporter put forward a plan for a victory (3). His name was Mikhail V Blagosklonny, MD, PhD, and his approach was by combining strategies that target cancerous cells directly while protecting normal cells in targeted tissues (3). Blagosklonny’s three-pronged attack (as suggested cures tend to be) may appear relatively simple, but so far scientists are finding the goal nothing more than elusive.

At cancer’s core there is a only one etiology, which strikes like sabotage at the core of the human body’s own blueprint: mutation. Genetic instability is why cancer has proved to be a more formidable enemy than diabetes or heart disease. The disease is completely unpredictable, arising any number of tissues, with more than 100 possible etiologies (1), and by the time you know its there, it’s an army of cancerous cells reproducing faster than rabbits, using healthy cells to shield itself from attacks, and ultimately making its final blow in a battle of attrition.

Can the 2015 goal be sustained? And, more curiously, will there ever be a cure? As always judgment will be left up to science leaving all with a need for patience, but over the years since the ‘70s much has been learned thanks to thousands of studies on cancer. Marching onward it is progressive understanding and creativeness in treatments that present hope that researchers will eventually prevail.

Reference List

1. Hesse BW. Harnessing the power of an intelligent health environment in cancer control. Stud Health Technol Inform 2005;118:159-76.
2. Conrads TP, Hood BL, Petricoin EF, III, Liotta LA, Veenstra TD. Cancer proteomics: many technologies, one goal. Expert Rev Proteomics 2005;2:693-703.
3. Blagosklonny MV. How cancer could be cured by 2015. Cell Cycle 2005;4:269-78.

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