Cancer is a complex disease. There are some cancers, when caught early and treated, that are curable. Is there a cure for cancer? Not yet, in the sense that all cancers are curable. However, medical and technological advances are bringing us closer to that goal.
Cancer will soon become the leading cause of death in the United States. However, cancer is an umbrella term for literally hundreds of diseases. What cancers have in common is that they all have abnormal cells growing out of control.
What Does “Cure” Really Mean?
It’s important to define cure when it comes to cancer. Cure means that the cancer has gone away due to treatment. Further treatment is not necessary, and the cancer is unlikely to return.
Remission vs. Cure
Some cancer patients may go into remission. That is not synonymous with being cured. Remission occurs when cancer is either under control or responding to treatment. Often, treatment continues during remission.
There is also a difference between a complete and partial remission. With complete remission, the signs and symptoms of the disease are gone and testing does not reveal cancer cells. With patrial remission, tumors may shrink or cancer may become less detectable, but it is not gone.
In some remissions, the cancer never returns. Over a long enough period, doctors may consider the cancer cured. However, many patients in remission find their cancer is back after weeks, months or years. Even if cancer recurs, further treatment could result in another remission.
Is There a Cure for Cancer?
While some cancers have a high cure rate, that all depends on factors such as the stage of the disease and tumor aggressiveness. If a cancer has metastasized (spread), a cure is unlikely. Still, even in this bleak situation, some patients have been cured of metastasized colon cancer or melanoma.
Scientists believe more than 30% of cancers are linked to infectious events. In the future, methods targeting specific infectious agents may protect people from these cancers. Immunotherapy — where the immune system is stimulated to fight cancer — has achieved impressive results. Even patients with cancers that are hard to treat, such as lung cancer, may respond well to immunotherapy. Even if this treatment is not a cure, it can give the patient more time and a better quality of life.
Types of Cancer That Are Curable
Although millions of people succumb to cancer each year, there are success stories. Certain types of cancer are curable with prompt and proper treatment. Curable is based on five-year survival rates.
For instance, the cure rate for testicular cancer is about 95% when treated with chemotherapy. Other cancers that are curable when caught and treated early include those of the:
The old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure also applies to cancer. Curing cancer is unlikely in the near future. However, preventing many types of cancer is a reality now, and that’s a prime focus of medical research. As many as 50% of cancers may prove preventable via lifestyle and behavioral modifications. Current methods of cancer prevention include:
- Vaccination — HPV and hepatitis B can cause cancer. Vaccines are available
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Little or no alcohol consumption
- Maintaining a Body Mass Index between 18.5 to 27.5
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding excessive sun or UV exposure
The link between cancer and smoking was determined more than 50 years ago. Lung cancer deaths have dropped significantly in recent decades as fewer people take up the tobacco habit. While the war against smoking has been a public health success, there are other battles to be fought in cancer prevention. Among the most critical is the continuing rise in obesity. In the U.S., obesity is now among the major cancer risk factors, not surprising in a country where approximately 40% of the population is obese and roughly another third are overweight. As more young people suffer from obesity, their cancer rates are rising.
Obesity is related to an increased risk of cancer of the:
Early screening can detect cancers in their initial stages before they have the opportunity to spread and are most curable. Truly “curing cancer” will require funding for public health services as well as biomedical research.
Visit Yosemite Pathology
For more than 70 years, Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology has advanced anatomic pathology in the Western United States. Today, our practice encompasses more than 20 board-certified anatomic pathology specialists. Our broad range of specialties includes breast, gynecologic, hematology, thyroid, urologic and other pathologies. For more information about our services, contact us today.
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.
Harvard Public Health Magazine – The Cancer Miracle Isn’t a Cure. It’s Prevention.
American Cancer Society – Can Cancer Be Cured?
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – What Is Metastatic Cancer? Answers to Six Common Questions
Horizon: The EU Research and Innovation Magazine – Will we ever cure cancer?
Johns Hopkins Medicine – Testicular Cancer Statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017–2018