Why Cancer Just Won't Die

It's partly statistics, partly the nature of the disease: George Johnson
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2014 5:30 PM CST
Why Cancer Just Won't Die

When someone is dying these days, it often seems to be cancer—but that doesn't mean we've lost the war against this dreadful disease, writes George Johnson at the New York Times. Cancer's resilience is partly statistical: Heart disease has plummeted 68% since 1958 while cancer has dropped only 10%, making cancer nearly our No. 1 cause of death (as per this CDC graph). But also, "the comparison is unfair," Johnson writes. "Cancer is, by far, the harder problem—a condition deeply ingrained in the nature of evolution and multicellular life."

In other words, the cellular mutations that make cancer possible are necessary for evolution. Cancer cells are following the Darwinian rules—mutating and evolving—only they're spreading a genetic error that is ultimately lethal. Despite this, we've significantly reduced stomach cancer (thanks to better refrigeration and public sanitation) and lung cancer (where anti-smoking campaigns have taken hold). So give scientists a break—especially considering that cancer becomes more likely as our cells mutate over the years. "A body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it," writes Johnson. "If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer." Click for his full piece, or read about treatment that kills cancer "like a cold." (Read more cancer stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.