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A new strategy for cancer

The advent of genetic medicine has so far made little difference in the battle against cancer. In fact, despite advances in treating leukaemia and breast cancer, little overall progress has been made since the early 1970s. A new strategy is needed.

By Michael Baum   February 2002

As susan sontag famously pointed out, the rhetoric of cancer treatment and cancer research is couched in the terms of military conflict. Politicians claim that we are winning the war against cancer and the doctors with the highest profile are described in terms normally reserved for military leaders. At the sharp end, the patient never simply dies of the disease but loses the fight. This metaphor fixes in the public mind the idea that cancer is a foreign invader and therefore the war must destroy every last malignant cancer cell.

This is a false analogy. The cancer cells are simply…

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