Why cancer is difficult to cure?

Purva Kalel

Final Year, B.Pharm

One in every six deaths is caused by cancer, making it one of the most devastating diseases in the world. There is no one cure to cancer. It cannot be attended with well-developed methodology such that in bacterial infections or common cold.

There are much mysteries that revolve around the disease, some of them being:

What makes cancer such a deadly disease? What sets it apart from other illnesses in the world? Why is cancer treatment so rarely successful?

Well, there’s no one reason why cancer has its fatal reputation. Several factors contribute to its lethality and low cure rates. Let’s assume a pharmaceutical standpoint and understand where cancer’s malignance stems from.


  1. Cancer cells cannot be treated, only killed

Cancer involves disruption of DNA. No matter how technically evolved we are, we have still not been successful in undoing genetical damage. The only way to control their malignancy is to kill cancerous cells, either by radiation or drug therapy. But since cancer cells are nothing but altered human cells, it is difficult to specifically target them without harming healthy cells.

For instance, antibiotics are used to kill bacteria that harbour completely different physiology than human cells. This is not true with malignant cells, since they still hold major human character. This limits the potency of drugs we can use to irradiate cancer.


  1. Cancer is often diagnosed too late

Many times, cancer grows asymptmatically. At the lack of disease like indications, many poeple continue to live their lives without a clue. By the time they suffer symptoms and are diagnosed, cancer is already thriving and probably spread.


Cancers are better treated when diagnosed early. The more the delay in diagnosis, fewer the treatment options.


  1. Cancer cells are superior


Cancer is truly a complex disease. One might think the tumour is made of ineffective, weak cells. But though malfunctioning, cancer cells are far superior than healthy cells. They are immortal, fast growing and metastasising. Unfortunately, these traits make cancer cells stand out in a negative light. Their dominance allows cancer cells to evoke a chaotic disorder. They impair the normal functionality of organ, and slowly hampers their function.


Cancer cells can adapt to changes like no other. This quality helps them move and flourish in several parts of the body. If an anti-cancer drug is used for a prolonged time, they eventually generate resistance and transfer it to the next generation of cells. If this goes on for long enough, most drugs become useless for the patient, increasing their vulnerability to the disease. This phenomenon is common in cancers, and is one of the main reasons why cancer treatment becomes more complicated.

  1. Cancer cells are movable

Let’s assume, a healthy brain cell gets detached from the brain. It enters a capillary and flows with blood to reach, say lung. Now, a healthy brain cell would never be able to survive in a lung environment. It would undergo programmed cell death and degrade, protecting the integrity of lung.


This does not hold true with malignant cells. They are so genetically advanced that they are not only capable of moving to other organs, but also form a tumour there.


  1. Not all tumours can be removed

In many cancer types, surgically removing the tumour solves the problem. However, if the cancer has metastasised, i.e. if it is spread in the body, surgery is not the best option.

Additionally, many tumours grow in inaccessible places. For example, some brain tumours are so deeply situated that surgery might do more harm than good. In these cancer types, the drug therapy and radiation become the only remaining choices, limiting the treatment options.

  1. Cancer is unpredictable

A patient with lung cancer can die of kidney failure, or a lymphoma patient might suffer from respiratory failure. No matter where the cancer is originated, cancer cells spread unpredictably, damaging organs that might not be directly related to the tissue of cancer origin.

This makes cancer treatment even more difficult. Oncology physician has to deeply understand the metastasis pattern of cancer, define the origin and prescribe accordingly. And even then treatment failure is common given to the disease spread, severity and complex behaviour.



Cancer can be devastating, both for the patient and their loved ones. Though cancer is an arduous challenge, novel drug delivery systems are developing promisingly. In the nearer future, one can expect ways to overcome the challenges cancer presents. Targeted therapies, advanced surgical methods, and early diagnosis are the core areas of focus that will successfully build a bridge between technology and cure.