A Cure For Cancer? Not So Fast

The news report in the Jerusalem Post regarding researchers’ claim that they have found a cure for cancer is certain to get our attention. And, it goes without saying, we all share the aspirational hope that they are correct. Unfortunately, we must be aware that this is far from proven as an effective treatment for people with cancer, let alone a cure.

As reported, the scientists have worked with an interesting approach to interfering with the ability of cancer cells to function and go on to say that this “complete cure” will be available in a year’s time. They further claim the cure “will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side effects at a much lower cost than most other (available) treatments.”

The key to the success of this research is apparently the focus of this experimental treatment approach on several abnormalities in cancer cells at the same time, limiting the ability of the cancer cell to change its genetic pattern and become resistant to typical treatments.

The researchers further report that the company conducting this work “has concluded its first exploratory mice experiment…”

As initially exciting as this report may appear, there are several key points that must be kept in mind:

  • This is a news report based on limited information provided by researchers and a company working on this technology. It apparently has not been published in the scientific literature where it would be subject to review, support and/or criticism from knowledgeable peers.
  • My colleagues here at American Cancer Society tell me phage or peptide display techniques, while very powerful research tools for selecting high affinity binders, have had a difficult road as potential drugs. If this group is just beginning clinical trials, they may well have some difficult experiments ahead.
  • This is based on a mouse experiment which is described as “exploratory.” It appears at this point there is not a well-established program of experiments which could better define how this works—and may not work—as it moves from the laboratory bench to the clinic.
  • We all have hope that a cure for cancer can be found and found quickly. It is certainly possible this approach may be work. However, as experience has taught us so many times, the gap from a successful mouse experiment to effective, beneficial application of exciting laboratory concepts to helping cancer patients at the bedside is in fact a long and treacherous journey, filled with unforeseen and unanticipated obstacles.
  • It will likely take some time to prove the benefit of this new approach to the treatment of cancer. And unfortunately–based on other similar claims of breakthrough technologies for the treatment of cancer–the odds are that it won’t be successful.

Our hopes are always on the side of new breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We are living in an era where many exciting advances are impacting the care of patients with cancer. We hope that this approach also bears fruit and is successful. At the same time, we must always offer a note of caution that the process to get this treatment from mouse to man is not always a simple and uncomplicated journey.


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J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog (www.cancer.org/drlen) which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

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