“It’s ALIVE !”

No, I’m not a mad scientist, and cancer is not “alive.” When I say “alive,” I mean that it does not have a brain. But I can see why some people may think that cancer has a brain. Many scientists have diligently worked to dissect the genetic and molecular workings that make cancer cancer. And based on this knowledge, cancer medications are designed to attack these “weak links.” Well if cancer doesn’t have a brain, then how does it “know” to change it’s machinery (via mutations(s)) to make the drug stop working? Resistance of the cancer against a specific drug occurs pretty reliably at some point in time, usally on the order of months. To help us stop thinking of cancer as a thing with a brain, we need to realize that cancer is really a population of cells that are mostly similar to each other but slightly different. The genes of each cancer cell may be 99.99% identical to each other, but there are some cells with tiny mutations (single nucleotide differences). When an amazing chemotherapy drug is given, and wipes out 99.99% of the cancer cells, the patient appears to be “cured.” But then six months later, the cancer comes back (recurrence). And guess what – it’s completely resistant and unaffected by that amazing chemotherapy drug. Those scarce, essentially invisible, cancer cells that were slightly different six months earlier survived, multiplied, and became the cancer that has returned. It looks as if the same cancer reprogrammed it’s genetics specificaly to evade the efficacy of the chemotherapy drug. It looks as if the cancer has problem-solving skills. It looks like it has a brain. But really, it’s a different cancer. 99.99% of the old cancer was destroyed. The new cancer is made up of 0.01% of the original population. It’s quite different, and it doesn’t have a brain.

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