The reality is that telling someone that you have cancer, or even cancer in a specific body part, is like telling people you're a fan of music: It's generally not enough info to discern anything relevant. Paul gets frustrated by this on a regular basis. "There are many possible combinations of mutations, and many cells dividing," he explained. "This means some pathways are active in some cancers and not present in others. In the news, we always laugh at reports like 'Cure For Liver Cancer Coming Soon!' Usually what they mean is that for a very specific type of liver cancer ... they found a way to help treat it. For a sub-population of patients with that kind of cancer, they finally have a treatment that can send that cancer into remission.
"Due to different enzymes, inhibitors, and other factors, the best-case scenario is that the 'cure' is benign. The worst case is that it only kills half the cancer and aggravates the rest of it."
We'd compare cancer to terrorism, but that's underselling it.
Dr. Ruth agreed, as she's seen the fundraising side of research impacted by this misunderstanding. "I work in a lab that focuses on a specific type of cancer, and donors always demand a 100 percent blanket treatment, not a treatment for a specific mutation that covers 0.1 percent of all [cancer patients]," she explained. "Even with most donors having lost loved ones to a particular type of cancer, many still don't get that one type of cancer can splinter off. ... Donors want a cure, and they want it now, but it takes patience."