Cancer Research Progresses, but Still Not Enough for Many

Cancer takes the lives of approximately 600,000 North Americans every year. These are staggering numbers considering the array of treatments and medicines that exist to fight cancer cells and their spread. Although medical science has made major strides to combat the disease, it seems that we are still far from any foreseeable breakthrough in cancer’s defeat.

So, what exactly is cancer? According to Cancer.gov, the disease involves the abnormal and rapid growth of cells within specific sectors of the human body. The cell growth has the potential to grow and spread to other portions of the body. What makes it most deadly is its ability to adapt and disguise itself from the body’s immune cells and other natural defenses. Once it spreads, it is extremely difficult to defeat.

Since the mid 1990’s there have been three new alternative treatments to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Gleevec treats a particular type of leukemia by targeting an abnormal enzyme and remedying it. Deaths by this form of cancer were cut by more than half in the United States. Herceptin treats women with breast cancer by blocking a growth receptor in breast tumors. The treatment has saved thousands of women year after year. Yervoy aids immune cells that attack melanoma cancer, improving survival rates for those suffering from the condition. Another immune drug Keytruda shrinks tumors in that same disease. The media is calling these new treatments “revolutionizing” in the medical field. Although the new treatments have proven successful to some extent, they are far from actually effectively “beating” cancer.

New drugs and treatments are tirelessly cranked out by medical researchers, each of which produces slightly better results than the last. Although their efforts are commendable – every advancement in the field is a step closer to defeating cancer – many are troubled by the use of superlatives to describe these new treatments.

What does this mean? Use of superlatives in news media such as “revolutionary” and “game changing” to describe new remedies can be misleading.

Melvin Konner of the Wall Street Journal who lost his wife to cancer in 1998, has been outspoken on his criticism.

“Yes, there are exciting frontiers: genetics, immune therapy, sparing normal cells, cutting off tumors’ blood supply. The trouble is that these were the frontiers over 20 years ago, when I sought any news to help my wife.” said Konner.

Obviously “slash, burn, and poison” techniques have improved a great deal during the last decade. Unfortunately however, they are still unable to defeat cancer. Konner, as well as many others, are calling for more tempered language when conveying current cancer treatments.

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