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19 May 2011

No, Cancer hasn't been cured (yet)

So a bunch of facebook people are getting suckered into posting a headline that basically says “Scientists cure cancer, but no one takes notice.”  This really drives home my absolute hatred of irresponsible media reporting, and how most of the fuckwads in the media wouldn't know science if it bit them on the nose.

Thankfully we do have some people who can approach the subject with some scientific background.  I give you three quick examples.

Fists, Steve Novella over at Skepticblog has a thoughtful response.  I think EVERYONE should take heed with his conclusion:
The history of cancer treatment has taught researchers to be humble and realistic. New treatments are great, and they are each contributing to the slowly increasing survival of many cancers. We are making progress with a lot of singles – just not the grand-slam home-runs that the media wants for good headlines.

So don’t believe the conspiracy-mongering and the hype. The research is happening. It is being targeted largely to therapies in proportion to their promise. But unfortunately research progresses much more slowly than rumors spread through Facebook and Twitter.
Of course, if you want to know something about biology, maybe talking to a biologist would be a good idea?  At least he knows about what dichloroacetate is and means, right?  P.Z. Myers is one such biologist, and he weighs in with pictures and everything.  I think he states it quite well when he says:
The simple summary is this: that claim is a lie. There have been no clinical trials of dichloroacetate (DCA) in cancer patients, so there is no basis for claiming they have a cure; some, but not all, cancers might respond in promising ways to the drug, while others are likely to be resistant (cancer is not one disease!); and there are potential neurotoxic side effects, especially when used in conjunction with other chemotherapies.
Then there is the ever popular Orac at Respectful Insolence. Here is an actual medical doctor (surgeon actually) with his views.  It's hard to pick one summary quote from this latest entry, but I really liked this one:
I think Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, put it well in writing about this latest DCA study on his blog, Dr. Len's Cancer Blog:
This research still needs lots of work before we know whether it works or doesn't work, and whether it is really safe or not when given to patients with cancer under a variety of circumstances. If that sounds overly cautious, so be it. I have seen too many dashed hopes in my medical career which make me a bit cautious about reports like this. That's not to say I don't think it could work--it could, as I mentioned above--but I want to see evidence in well done trials that prove the point that DCA is effective in the treatment of which cancers under what circumstances. Early in my cancer training there was a substance isolated by a researcher that was supposedly non-toxic and would cure leukemia. The research center where I was working was inundated from people around the globe who wanted this treatment, especially after the lead researcher injected himself on a nationwide morning show to demonstrate its apparent lack of toxicity. Only grams of this medicine existed. Fortunes were offered in return for getting this miracle drug. But the miracle drug--after reasonable clinical trials were done--didn't work after all.
Many are the lists of new "miracle cures" that have met this same fate. The difference today is that the Internet has allowed news of these drugs to be disseminated to more people than ever before--and faster than every before. Moreover, it has linked patients and activists into mutually supportive disease-specific communities, who can inform and educate each other, as well as publicizing research about their disease and lobbying legislators. The dark side of this power, however, is that it can facilitate the spread of false hope and the demand for a drug after only cell culture and animal work, before it even makes it to human trials. Add unscrupulous "entrepreneurs" into the mix, and the potential for harm is great. I like to echo the words of Fran Visco, President of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, who said:
...this isn't about emotion, it's about saving as many lives as possible and not about getting as many drugs out as possible. It's about doing the right research and making sure we have patient protections in place and making drugs available that are truly helpful.
Exactly. Emotion is easy. Conspiracy mongering is even easier.
So there you have it.  Remember that this isn't something new, but it's not the miracle cure that people are touting. Cancer is a horrible disease, and anyone struggling with it has my heartfelt sympathies.  But don't succumb to charlatans and liars that specifically prey on people struggling with it.  As Tim Minchin quipped, "Alternative medicine that actually works is called MEDICINE."

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