Blue Sky Science: How does cancer form and is there a cure?

Miranda Garcia-Dove


How does cancer form and is there a cure?

Cancer occurs when one of the tissues in our body decides to grow uncontrollably, and our immune system is not able to recognize and destroy it. So the tissue continues to grow and can eventually break off into pieces and attach to other parts of the body and affect our health.

Depending on the type of cancer, typical treatment options are chemotherapy, which are drugs that we use to help kill cancer; and radiation therapy, where we use radiation to basically attack the tumor. Some patients will also have surgery to have the tumor removed from their body.

A cancer cure is going to mean a lot of different things; I think a cure means that you get treatment for your cancer and it never comes back. Once a period of time has gone by and we feel the cells are not going to come back — let’s say five years — we feel comfortable saying their cancer is cured.

One of the challenges in curing cancer is always going to be, how can we find a therapy that’s only going to attack the cancer and not attack our normal tissues?

Looking forward, one of the questions we want to figure out in the cancer research world is how to program our immune system to recognize and kill cancer. And that may one day take the form of different treatments like vaccines to prevent or treat cancer. We also may find ways to take our immune cells and reprogram them so that they can help us fight cancer.