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This question was originally published on Quora. Answer by Ray Schilling, cancer researcher.

Cancer is neither too profitable to ever be cured or too unimportant to pay attention to new cures.

  1. I think that finding a cancer cure remains a difficult area for cancer researchers. I was part of this group from 1972 to 1975 (3 years) at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) in Toronto (Princess Margaret Hospital). I met many intelligent, eager researchers who tried to solve the complicated cancer puzzle. Why are cancer cells sneaking through the immune barrier? What cells are involved in mounting an anticancer immune response? How do cancer cell clones develop? With leukemia there was the detection of cancer stem cells. They also detected bone marrow stem cells in normal people (Till & McCulloch). Stem cells and their dual properties: self-renewal and differentiation | The Lasker Foundation.  Few people know that these two researchers detected the concept of stem cells.
  2. But while I was there working in basic immunology research with a mouse model, the dogma was that only leukemias would develop out of cancer stem cells that were genetically mutated. The elite researchers at that time postulated that solid tumors would not have stem cells. Well, they were wrong: Ray Schilling's answer to What was the most important breakthrough in cancer research the last ten years?  As I explain in this Quora answer, the new solid tumor stem cell assay involves injecting cancer stem cells into nude mice (that are immunodeficient because of genetically missing T cells) or into chemotherapy pretreated mice.
  3. In the example discussed it is clear that cancer researchers were working with the wrong concept because of a certain prejudice (“solid tumors develop without cancer stem cells”). You did not see a headline:”Cancer researchers erred.” This mistake was gradually rectified and now everybody talks about cancer stem cells. Many oncologists still deny that it is the cancer stem cells that are the reason for radioresistant and chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells that eventually kill the patient with conventional cancer therapy. Only specific immune therapies directed at cancer surface antigens that are shared with the cancer stem cells and cryotherapy will be effective against cancer (mechanism explained in the link under point 2 above).

Conclusion: I do believe that cancer will be cured in the not too distant future. Some cancers can be cured now. But there are many nuances in the cancer field. And there are still prejudices and wrong assumptions. The key is to continue to research and find out how cancer cells survive. Attack the mechanism that allows cancer cells to survive. Then you can treat cancer successfully, whether cancer treatment is profitable or not.

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