Where’s My Damn Cancer Cure?

Where’s My Damn Cancer Cure?

Every few weeks, there’s another news story about how we’ve got a promising new drug for cancer. Here’s why we haven’t cured it yet.

There’s a very interesting path that new discoveries take, in moving from a peer-reviewed scientific paper, to science journalism and press releases, to regular news.

Generally, many of the main facts tend to stay there, but the edges become fuzzy and distorted. Important qualifying details are sometimes lost, and the tone of the discovery becomes more extreme.

A great example of this is the recent buzz (sorry) about “murder hornets” from Asia being found in the United States. As the older brother of a bee expert who has written on this topic, I’ve heard about several misconceptions and challenges from how this story’s been reported:

  • These Asian Giant Hornets aren’t actually called “murder hornets”, at least until now — this is a new nickname that hasn’t been used by scientific researchers and seems to have come from the press.
  • There have been only scattered identification of the new giant Asian hornet species, only in Washington state. They aren’t scattered all across the US.
  • Enough stings from these hornets can kill, but that’s not unique to this species. 30–40 wasp stings are enough to kill a person.

How did these regular facts, slightly concerning but certainly not the kind of stuff to inspire insanity, turn into a nation-wide freakout about “murder hornets”?

And what does this have to do with cancer, or a potential cure for it?

The problem is that, on an almost weekly basis, I see articles like this in my news feed:

“Research offers hope of cancer breakthrough”

“Researchers make breakthrough in liver cancer immunotherapy”

“New cancer drug shrinks tumors, reduces side effects, in animal studies”

“Drug discovered by Louisville professor could be breakthrough treatment of coronavirus” — although the drug was originally hailed as a “cancer killer”

“Scientists unlock the key to cancer’s emergency brake”

All of those articles were published within the last month, and they’re all about different drugs, targeting cancer in different ways. (In order, drug-loaded micelles that correct a cancer-controlling gene, training our immune system to fight cancer, an inhibitor to block tumor growth, synthetic DNA that binds to cancer cells, and an enzyme that slows the growth of tumors.)

Man, we’ve really got this disease on the ropes now, haven’t we? We’ll have it defeated any day now!

The problem is that I’ve been seeing articles like this, with the same headlines (breakthrough! key to cancer! incredible new treatment! completely effective!) for years.

And as far as I know, cancer isn’t cured, not the way that we can clear up an ear infection or an STD.

What’s going on? Where’s my damn cancer cure?

health journalism cancer technology science data science

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