Why is it that despite signed capitulations, the war on cancer is still on?

Carlos Sonnenschein, Ana M. Soto


Almost half a century ago, under the concept of a War on Cancer, an all-out generously-funded worldwide scientific research effort was undertaken aimed at explaining cancer and eventually providing a cure for it. This massive effort was epistemologically based on a reductionist approach to the understanding of the biological sciences. In short, it adopted the premises of the somatic mutation theory of carcinogenesis (SMT) which was originally proposed in 1914 by Theodor Boveri and subsequently modified by its followers. In the last few years, a general unambiguous consensus by the originators and followers of this strategy has emerged that considered that this effort failed. Remarkably,  however, the bulk of the active scientific community has ignored such a verdict and continues to work under the premises of the SMT and its variants.  This Commentary documents the critical position of the “thought-leaders” and contrasts it with that of the bench-researchers at large who continue working on their respective experimental programs always consistent with the premises of the SMT, namely, that cancer is a cellular, subcellular and molecular disease.  This curious and divergent attitude between cancer research leaders, on one side, and the bench-bound cancer researchers, on the other, should call the attention of all active participants who dedicated and still do dedicate their efforts to resolving the cancer puzzle and that of observers of the scientific scene. Patients, the practicing medical community and the public at large who ultimately funded such a massive undertaking deserve an explanation of a) why this well-meant scientific project failed, and b) whether there is a plausible alternative that may fare better than the unsuccessful one.

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