Focusing research efforts on preventing cancer from arising in the first place may be a more effective strategy for large projects such as America’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’
Mutations occur within cells all the time, but the majority of people can expect to reach their middle years without any significant cancer risk. While a number come into play, one of the primary reasons cancer fails to grow and spread in younger people is that it’s caught by a more savvy immune system before it can. Understanding this process and how to extend it further could therefore be a more intelligent approach to dealing with cancer, which is more difficult to eradicate once metastasised. This is exactly what several cancer researchers are now urging the federal Cancer Moonshot to prioritise.
“Science has devoted tremendous amounts of energy and resources to the treatment of cancer, and in recent years, there has been significant progress. The cancer death rate has steadily declined for more than two decades. But cancer still kills more than half a million Americans each year and afflicts many millions more. If we’re ever to eradicate this scourge, we must work to prevent it from occurring altogether”
Big data and vaccines
Projects such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have already revealed important findings that have furthered the fields of immunotherapy and precision treatments. Expanding these types of endeavours is central to both understanding how cancer arises in different individuals, and why certain treatments only work in a subset of people.
Furthermore, the HPV vaccine has proved highly effective; stopping nearly 100% of cancer causing strains. Developing an expanded repertoire of cancer vaccines and focusing on producing various ‘universal’ cancer vaccines that block specific cancers from arising in the first place, is therefore an integral part of a preventative cancer anti-strategy.
Prevention over reaction
This type of thinking is part of a wider and perhaps wiser shift in the research community and medicine that we can hope soon takes hold. Aging massively raises disease risk, and some of the features of aging include a deteriorating immune system, increased inflammation and rising genome instability. These toxic changes all facilitate cancer growth, but if we begin thinking in a smarter, more efficient way in regards to disease we’ll be in a far better position – cutting diseases off before they can take hold.
“Oncogenic transformation is a series of steps. The body’s immune system is capable of intercepting pre-malignancies and preventing cancer. It does so countless times every day in all of us. That natural ability is what we want to leverage. Building upon our innate defenses against cancer is the foundation of new immunotherapies, which have shown great promise in a very short time. If the goal is eradication of cancer, we need a radically new focus, investment and approach to premalignant diseases and cancer prevention, one that is supported and sustained by broad, deep efforts like the Cancer Moonshot and Human Vaccines Project”
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