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Wed Feb 8, 2012, 06:46 PM

The cure for cancer. [View all]

I've seen repeated around here several times lately the premise that either there will never be a cure for cancer, since it's more profitable to treat it and therefore companies won't try to cure it, or that there is ALREADY a cure for cancer that's being covered up by said same conspiracy.

Fact-free "creative speculation" aside, there are three things fundamentally wrong with this.

First off, a great many medical researchers in the US are funded by universities and the government, and have no substantive ties with medical corporations or for-profit medicine at all. These scientists not only have no motivation to suppress a cancer cure, but strong counter-motivations: the discovery of a cure for cancer would save millions of lives, catapult the discoverer to historical immortality akin to Jonas Salk, and also make said discoverer filthy rich forever. Not even off the drug, just off of their book sales and tours. To believe that there is a cure for cancer being suppressed, or that a cure isn't actively being sought, is to suggest that either all of these scientists are either completely incompetent, or that they're protecting the medical industry at the expense of themselves and their descendants for the next ten generations.

Secondly, people greatly overestimate the amount of profit that there is in treating cancer. Treatments like chemotherapy are long-established and have few to no patents on the most common drugs used for them; the average profit margin on chemotherapy drugs is 6%, which is probably less than on the aspirin in your medicine cabinet. Likewise, radiation therapy machines are difficult and expensive to build, but have fairly simple and non-patented functions. Cancer treatment is expensive because of the extensive testing involved, time, expertise, lab work, and complications, not because it's a major profit center.

Third and finally, a company actually possessing a cure for cancer would be sitting on one of the greatest gold mines in modern medical history. Cancer costs just in the US alone are estimated to hit $158 billion a year by 2020; worldwide, cancer costs $1 trillion dollars a year. A medical company which could step in and offer a cure for HALF the cost of current, unreliable treatment would be the most profitable corporation in the world, dwarfing the entire oil industry put together. And that number would rise rapidly. Making cancer survivable would lead to longer lifespans, which results in more cancers, and thus more cures. It's not an unreasonable estimate that a company which came up with a cure for cancer would make enough money off of it to singlehandedly pay off the entire US national debt.

So no, despite some people competing for the title of "most cynical," it does NOT make sense to suggest that cancer is deliberately not being cured, or that a cure is being suppressed for nefarious purposes. It's not. In fact, there's many and compelling reasons why people are researching cancer cures completely aside from the humanitarian value.

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