Debbie Knight

Can a bicycle ride really end cancer?

In research issue(s) on July 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

A car magnet promoting a fund-raising bicycle ride for cancer research.

What does a two-day, 180-mile bicycle ride have to do with cancer research? The Peletonia is a fund-raising event for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and JamesCancerHospitaland Solove Research Institute. And for the past two years, it has successfully raised millions of dollars for cancer research.

It’s a great way to sponsor cutting-edge research.

However, I do not agree with this year’s slogan: One goal, end cancer.

As far as slogan’s go, it is quite effective and very inspirational — something you want to have when you’re raising funds. But I think it’s misleading – and not an immediately achievable goal. It suggests that cancer is something that can be controlled and eradicated.

I am not a cancer researcher, but I am a biomedical researcher. The current theories on how cancer arises is that it takes multiple “hits” before a cell in the human body goes rogue and begins to divide uncontrollably becoming cancerous. These “hits” include genetic factors (mutations in your DNA that you inherit from one or both of your parents) and environmental factors (such as exposure to certain chemicals in your water, in your food, in the air, or in your homes).

So, to end cancer would imply that we will no longer be exposed to dangerous chemicals and radiation in our world. We no longer will be exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, radon gas. We no longer will be exposed to herbicides and pesticides on our foods. We no longer will be exposed to the ultraviolet rays produced by the sun. We will no longer be exposed … well, you get the idea. There are quite a number of environmental insults that we would need to eliminate in order to truly end the incidence of cancer.

Cancer is complicated. Yes, we know tons more about what causes cancer than we did a few years ago, but cancer is not one single disease. Even “lung cancer” is not really a single entity – there is adenocarcinoma, bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and mesothelioma to name a few. Then there’s the staging. Doctors indicate how far the cancer has progressed by using a numbering system from one to four – a “one” indicates a better prognosis than a “four.” But how Bob’s lung cancer came about will be quite different than how Mary’s lung cancer came to be.

So, I think that the slogan “One goal, end cancer” is too simple and a little misleading.

Do we need cancer research? Most definitely!

Do we need improved early detection methods? Certainly!

Will there be one treatment for all? At this point, based on the fact that each person’s cancer has arisen in a different way, I doubt that there will be one treatment fits all. Yes, some chemotherapy drugs work well on a specific type of cancer, but not necessarily in every single case. I think treatments will improve and perhaps become less barbaric in the future. And I think hope lies in “personalized medicine” where treatments are customized for the individual patient. Mary’s tumor might be more sensitive to drug A while Bob’s tumor might be better treated with radiation therapy.

But until we think about the entire package, environmental pollution as well as genetics, and find ways to attack these issues from a global perspective, I think the “end” of cancer is mere rhetoric meant merely to inspire hope rather than results.

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  1. Great post, great point. Cancer occurs for many reasons, and with so many types of cancer, a “cure” in unlikely anytime soon. You hit the nail on the head.

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