James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
Beware of claims in the media of "a new cure for cancer." It is natural for the cancer patient to buy into media hype and accept claims of "cure" at face value. Many patients feel desperate and out of control of their lives. When respected news organizations announced that a combination of two research drugs (endostatin and angiostatin) could "cure cancer in two years", cancer patients throughout the world were given new hope. Unfortunately, as in previously reported "cures" for cancer, it may be many years before these drugs can be used in the general population. These drugs have been shown to cure tumors in mice, not humans. Many treatments have worked for various diseases in mice and failed in human trials. These drugs have a long way to go before they can be approved in treatments of human cancers.
The media has a tendency to blow medical reports out of proportion and sensationalize new treatments. Over the past 15 years other treatments were labeled as "new cures for cancer", including monoclonal antibodies, interferon, IL-2, and TNF. Each has found a limited role in the treatment of specific cancers, but are in no way a cure for cancer on their own.
Cancer is not just a single disease. It is a conglomeration of over one hundred different diseases, with different histology?s and different genetic mutations. There is little chance that a single drug will cure all cancers. Most cancers require multi-modality treatments with some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Each of these modalities treats an individual cancer with specific techniques that may not be effective in other types of cancers. Cancer can also become resistant to a specific type of therapy, which requires the integration of other approaches in treatment.
The most effective way to eradicate cancer is to prevent its occurrence. Any individual can significantly reduce their risk of cancer by avoiding smoking, drinking alcohol with moderation, eating a low fat diet, and protecting oneself from overexposure to the sun. The second most effective treatment is early detection of cancer. Cancers are much more treatable when at an early stage, so follow age appropriate screening recommendations for specific cancers. Screening mammograms, gynecologic examinations, stool occult-blood tests, colonoscopies, digital rectal examinations, and PSA blood tests have all been proven to help detect cancer at an earlier stage. It is also important for the general population to learn self-screening techniques such as the breast self-exam, testicular self-exam, and skin self-exam.
Contrary to popular belief, here is not a big conspiracy by the medical establishment to prevent the public from gaining access to new treatments. Unfortunately, it takes many years to identify a new treatment, show it is safe, prove that it works better than established treatments and then produce enough of the treatment to make it widely available.
There are many new, exciting ways to treat cancer that are currently under investigation. The only way to identify the most promising new treatments is to test them in clinical research trials. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, ask your physician about any clinical research trials that you may be eligible to join. You may not only help yourself, but the many other patients who are diagnosed with cancer in the future.
Again, beware of media claims of a "new cure for cancer." These are exciting times in cancer research, but we still have a long way to go. Science is slowly unraveling the secrets of the many diseases known as cancer.