Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

We Will Never Cure Cancer, So Should We Even Try?

Credit: dcleomiu/Adobe

Credit: dcleomiu/Adobe

By Nial Wheate

Billions of dollars are spent on cancer research each year for minimal gains. Would that money be better invested elsewhere?

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In 2014, cancer overtook cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in the world. While the incidence of cancer has continued to rise, the long-term survival rate has increased from 47% during the mid-1980s to more than 65% by 2010.

Despite this promising improvement in survival, the unique nature of the disease means it is unlikely that it will ever be declared cured. This is because there will never be a single drug that is capable of curing all forms of cancer, and the success of treatment is highly dependent on how early it is detected.

Instead, better screening techniques and the use of personalised medicine will improve the success of treatment in the coming decade, but it will never reach 100%. And even if we could cure cancer, the financial cost may be too high, especially when the money to do so could be better spent elsewhere.

In 1906 the German scientist, Paul Ehrlich, coined the term “magic bullet” to describe a single drug that could specifically seek out and kill a disease with little or no side-effects.

The magic bullet theory certainly holds true for many types of disease. Take bacterial infections as an example. When the antibiotic penicillin was discovered, it literally was a magic bullet that saved many millions of lives.

But the important thing with antibiotics, if we discount the rising problem of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.