Do We Need to Stop Talking About “Curing” Cancer?

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In 1971, Richard Nixon declared war on cancer. Five decades and billions of dollars later, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. But promising advances in immunotherapy and other cutting-edge research, plus efforts like Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot,” have reinvigorated the battle and raised new hopes. Now the entire way we look at cancer is changing from monolithic condition to a wide range of different diseases requiring different approaches. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, fighting cancer meant using targeted therapies to attempt to wipe out compromised cells. But today iconoclastic cancer researchers are taking a different approach: What if, they ask, the human body is more like an ecosystem? What if cancer cells are active members within that habitat? Billions of years of evolution have endowed ecosystems with ways of remaining healthy despite predators, exploiters, cheaters, and deadbeats. And if researchers apply predictable ecological management principles to cancer treatment we might reframe the disease in a way that leads to effective new treatments instead of an ever unattainable cure. Join Future Tense in Washington, D.C., as we gather the experts who are reassessing how we understand, prevent, and treat cancer.

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