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Ask the Teachers - Mia asked: "Why is cancer so hard to cure?"


1 in 2 people get cancer

That’s a startlingly terrifying statistic: 50% of us will get cancer. However, that can be a bit misleading, even though it’s statistically accurate. 50% of ALL cancer incidences are in people over the age of 70. That means that the younger you are, the less likely you are to have this beast of a disease. As humans live longer and longer, cancer cases rise exponentially. We’ll look at some of the causes of cancer later, but today, we’re focussing on besting this awful thing. Here’s why it’s so difficult to beat it:


We make it!

Genetic Complexity: Cancer is a disease that arises from mutations in our DNA. These mutations can occur in various combinations and patterns, making each cancer case unique. Understanding and targeting these specific genetic alterations is crucial but challenging, as cancer's genetic complexity can vary from person to person. So, in essence, cancer is something totally individual and personalised to us. It grows and is formed within our own bodies as mutated cancer cells begin to replicate uncontrollably. In a very odd way, it’s quite similar to a baby growing inside a mother’s womb. As the mother eats, the nutrition is passed onto the baby. As we eat and live, we pass on energy for cancer cells to replicate. Just like most living things, cancer cells just want to make as many cancer cell babies as they can.


Darwinistic cells

Cellular Adaptability: Cancer cells have a remarkable ability to adapt and evolve. They can develop mechanisms to evade the immune system, resist treatment, and even repair their damaged DNA. This adaptability makes it difficult to develop treatments that effectively eradicate all cancer cells and prevent recurrence. Imagine a supervillain made of sand (hang on…that sounds familiar) that can reform and reshape itself. You might hit it with a frozen tuna or an organic carrot and knock a few pieces off, but particles remain and can reform. Now add in the fact that it can escape the steely gaze of your immune system by pretending to look like a curly hair cell or hiding behind some globs of protein. Now, that’s a supervillain.


Oh man….

Late Diagnosis: Early detection of cancer greatly improves treatment outcomes. However, cancer can often remain undetected or undiagnosed until it has reached advanced stages. Late-stage cancers are often more aggressive and have spread to other parts of the body, making them harder to treat successfully. This makes sense logically because we’re talking about cellular replication. If you lost a million cells or gained a million cells, you’d have no idea. Cancer can be present in your system for years without you realising it because it’s so small. Tumours, when they grow and are found as lumps, have been progressing quite merrily for ages. Even then, they’re not so easy to notice unless they squash something else and cause associated symptoms like headaches or pain.


Why does the medicine hurt more than the cancer?

Treatment Toxicity: Many cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can be effective but often come with significant side effects. Chemotherapy essentially poisons the cancerous cells and, as you can imagine, being poisoned feels JUST like being poisoned for any other reason. Your body hates it. Often, patients who go through chemotherapy sessions can’t do anything much for 2 or 3 days after the treatment. Imagine if half of your life was spent feeling AWFUL!!! Radiation treatment is just as terrible for our overall sense of wellbeing. A bit of word association - radiation = moving energy = nuclear radiation = OH NO! The challenge lies in finding a balance between effectively killing cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells and tissues.


Where’s the money?

Funding and Research: Cancer research requires substantial resources, including funding, specialized equipment, and a dedicated workforce. Although there has been significant progress in cancer research and treatment over the years, more investment and collaboration are needed to accelerate the development of effective cures. You see, humans are happy to spend unbelievable amounts of money on entertainment, smoking, eating out, and fast fashion, but we’re less willing to put even some of that money toward cancer research. When 50% of humans invariably get cancer, it seems a bit odd and short-sighted. And, you know, it’s not like humans to ONLY THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW and not worry about the future (*GLOBAL WARMING ALERT*), right?


A new hope

Sounds familiar. Despite these challenges, ongoing research and advancements in technology provide hope for improved cancer treatments and, ultimately, a cure. Let’s just hope we find that before we find the cure for wrinkles.


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