Why is cancer so hard to treat?

As a cancer scientist, a common question I get is “When are we going to cure cancer?”. It sounds like a simple question, but the truth is pretty complicated.

The first thing to point out is that finding a cure for cancer is extremely unlikely. Cancer is an umbrella term for over 200 different diseases (1000s of different diseases if you include sub-types). Although these diseases have many outward similarities Continue reading

The cost of a cancer breakthrough

MelanomaA new combination of drugs marketed by Bristol-Meyer Squibb has been hailed as a breakthrough in cancer treatment. Almost every media outlet carried a story about the results of a trial that were announced at a conference in Chicago yesterday, with the usual hype. The results are quite remarkable. 58% of metastatic melanoma patients treated with this new drug combination saw their tumours shrink, with the tumours stable or shrinking for a median of 11.5 months. This is amazing when you consider that metastatic melanoma was thought to be largely incurable as recently as 5 years ago.

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Why are some drugs not provided on the NHS?

NICE cancer drug decisions
NICE cancer drug decisions

The decision not to provide a drug on the NHS can have a devastating impact on patients and their families, and often causes a negative public reaction. However, therapies are getting increasingly expensive (particularly cancer therapies) and NHS has a very limited budget. As a result, in spite of the impact on patients and public opinion, 36% of cancer drugs evaluated since the start of 2014 (see pie chart) have been rejected, usually on the basis of cost. Continue reading