Kent Hunter explains why cancer is so hard to cure

He said cancer involves our cells losing their ability to control their own growth. And he said the body has a hard time distinguishing cancerous cells from normal cells, so that drug design for cancer is difficult.

A student in California asks the scientists….

Akhila: My name is Akhila and I go to Christensen Middle School in Livermore, California, and my question is, what are the properties of cancer that make it so hard to cure?

EarthSky asked Kent Hunter, a cancer biologist at the National Cancer Institute.

Kent Hunter: The problem with cancer is that it’s actually our own cells that have lost the ability to control their growth. And so the body has a very difficult time distinguishing cancerous cells from normal cells. And by the same way, it’s very difficult for us to design drugs that will destroy cancer cells without harming the rest of the cells in the body.

These out-of-control cells divide and grow into cancerous tumors. A common treatment is chemotherapy, or drugs that target and kill cancer cells. But tumors can be a moving target.

Kent Hunter: Some tumors have the ability to constantly change – they’re changing their biology as they grow. Some of the chemotherapies will kill many of the cancer cells but not all of them. And the cells that are resistant will just regrow the tumor, so you basically end up not solving the problem.

Still, Hunter is optimistic about a cure for cancer. He said scientists have made huge progress in the fight against it.

Our thanks to the Monsanto Fund, bridging the gap between people and their resources.

Our thanks to:
Kent Hunter
National Cancer Institute – Center for Cancer Research
The National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

Lindsay Patterson