People have been researching cancer for a hundred years and we still can’t cure it. What good has all this “research” done? A fair point, what do we know? Well, we know it’s complicated. A cell contains 30,000 genes and if you get a mutation (mistake) in a few of those genes (by accident or by inheriting them from your parents) you will develop cancer.
The trouble is there are over two hundred different types of cell in the body and over two hundred different types of cancer. Each of those cells contains 30, 000 genes and each cell is involved in millions of chemical reactions every day.
It doesn’t end there, where a cell is and the signals it receivies from it’s neighbours (and neighbourhood) makes a big difference. This is something scientists call “tumour microenvironment” For a good introduction to this topic, you can read this interview with Dr Mina Bissell, in an American Paper called the East Bay Express.
For an overview of how much we’ve learnt about cancer then have a look at the Nature Website, Milestones in Cancer, it is a truely fascinating read. I particularly liked the “timeline” section, it gives an impression of how scientific theories come and go over the years, but highlights how every little bit of hard won information helps us to understand what is going wrong insdie a cancer cell. I believe that resesarch like this will lead to better treatments and cures. So when someone asks, what good has all this research done? Point them to that Nature article and let them read all about it.