Over the past few decades, private oncology has taken immense strides forward in cancer diagnosis and treatment, saving countless lives in the process and, in far more cases than in the past, turning a diagnosis many people dread into something that requires much less invasive treatment.
Far more people are treated for cancer than ever before, but one aspect of this is that certain types of cancers are much easier to treat with very common, low risk and highly effective pathways to remission, whilst others are particularly aggressive and difficult to fully eradicate.
The concern is such that the UK Government have unveiled a £2m scheme to fund four projects to help cure hard-to-treat cancers that often spread exceptionally quickly, including brain, lung and oesophagal cancers.
However, what is it that makes some cancers more difficult to detect early, difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat than others?
The first and biggest answer is the simple fact that there are hundreds of types of cancers and every single one of them manifests uniquely in each patient.
Mapping the cancer of one person could become the sole project of an entire laboratory, and up until the rise of machine learning in drug development, it was effectively unfeasible for personalised treatments to be created for every person’s cancer.
What also needs to be considered is that this diversity is not only between different instances of the same cancer but also for the same person over time.
Much like how the common cold adapts so often that there can’t be a vaccine for it, cancers adapt to treatments, which is why oncology treatments are often so intense to ensure that every last cancerous cell is eradicated so it cannot come back.
Speed Of Progression
Time is the most important weapon in the battle against cancer; the more time you have, the easier the cancer will be to treat and the less harm it will be able to cause.
A lot of the time, with regular screening and detection efforts, cancers can be caught quickly enough that they will not have time to progress into a more advanced form that can cause significant health damage, but some rare cancers are the exception to this.
Certain types of thankfully quite rare cancer start to grow and spread exponentially, making them much harder to treat and requiring more aggressive forms of treatment that can have consequences in the short term.
The Nature Of Mutation
Most diseases that the body deals with involve foreign bodies such as viruses and bacteria that the body’s immune system is well developed to handle. This is why a lot of illnesses largely go away on their own as long as your immune system is strong enough.
But cancer is a mutation of cells native to our bodies, which means that a lot of cancerous cells are hard to distinguish from healthy cells, making it difficult for cancer treatments to find a way to target cancerous cells without damaging healthy cells as well.
However, as more advances are found and greater knowledge about how cancers function is learned, more targeted, personalised treatments will become available.