A recent study by TracerX has revealed that cancers have an “almost infinite” ability to evolve and survive, making a universal cure unlikely any time soon. The study, which tracked lung cancers for nine years, found that tumours become more aggressive over time, better at evading the immune system, and able to spread around the body. The research team examined the diversity of mutations in millions of cells inside lung cancer patients, concluding that the results would apply across different types of cancer. More than 400 people were treated at 13 hospitals in the UK, with biopsies taken from different parts of their lung cancer as the disease progressed. The results showed that highly aggressive cells in the initial tumour were the ones that ultimately ended up spreading around the body. The study also found that tumours showing higher levels of genetic "chaos" were more likely to relapse after surgery to other parts of the body.
Prof Charles Swanton, from the Francis Crick Institute and University College London, who led the study, said he was "surprised" and "in awe" at the formidable force they were up against. He added that "given the almost infinite possibilities in which a tumour can evolve, and the very large number of cells in a late-stage tumour, then achieving cures in all patients with late-stage disease is a formidable task." The researchers hope the findings could help them predict how a patient's tumour will spread and to tailor treatment in the future.
Cancer Research UK has stressed the importance of early detection and prevention. Dr David Crosby, the head of prevention and early detection at Cancer Research UK, said the study highlights the crucial importance of further research to help detect cancers at the earliest stages of their development or even better, to prevent them from happening at all. Obesity, smoking, alcohol, and poor diet all increase the risk of some cancers. Tackling inflammation in the body is also being seen as a way of preventing cancer. Inflammation is the likely explanation for air pollution causing lung cancers and inflammatory bowel disease increasing the risk of colon cancer.