In 2003, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, then director of the National Cancer Institute outlined his goal to eliminate suffering and death from cancer by 2015. “This prediction does not mean that we will eliminate cancer by then,” he said, “I don’t know when that will happen. But the challenge is to understand the disease and create interventions so that no one will suffer and die prematurely from cancer.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supports von Eschenbach’s goal to end death and suffering from cancer by 2015. If elected, Clinton promises to end discrimination by insurance companies against cancer patients and will double the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute budgets. In addition, she will increase by fivefold the number of patients participating in cancer clinical trials.
“Cancer is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people under age 85,” Clinton says. “One in two men and one in three women will get cancer in their lifetime, and more than 1,500 Americans die every day from this dreaded disease. We must strive to change these awful statistics.”
This makes cancer the second deadliest disease category, after heart disease. But while mortality rates for heart disease and many other sicknesses have dropped by more than half since 1950, cancer death rates have stayed pretty much the same.
Equally dismal are the economic costs associated with cancer. In 2005, the economy suffered losses of more than $200 billion, mostly due to work time lost from cancer treatments and deaths caused by the disease.
Experts divide the war on cancer into three phases – detection, treatment, and monitoring, and many believe that tomorrow’s nanotech systems offer the best chance for defeating cancer.
Early Detection provides the best chance for patient survival. Tumor cells typically divide 40-50 times during their life cycle; but by the time physicians spot the tumor, it is often more than 80% mature and growing too fast to be stopped. However, researchers believe that soon-to-be-developed nanotech systems will identify cancer cells much earlier, giving doctors plenty of time for successful intervention.
Today, Treatment involves chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery, but these do not always work. However, proposed nano-devices zero in on cancer cells creating tiny “nano-bubbles” that destroy cancer without harming neighboring cells. This will eliminate negative side effects such as hair loss and weakened immune systems.
Monitoring involves detecting recurring cancer after initial treatment and remission. Nano-technologists are developing an easy-to-use sensor that will perform quick cancer checks and predict the potential danger of tumors. This system will improve efficiency of point-of-care and clinical testing, and provide near real-time diagnostics during surgery.
Most researchers consider the approaches described above as strong likelihood for success. But some cancers are drug resistant or they mutate after initial therapy and even these futuristic nano-treatments may be ineffective. This is where a more drastic approach may be needed.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that to eradicate cancer permanently will require development of tiny nano-robots that could become reality by 2025 or before. These “smart” ‘bots will flow through the bloodstream correcting faulty DNA, keeping our bodies in perfect health forever.
Get ready to enjoy an amazing cancer-free “magical future.”