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I've heard a theory that given the widespread incidence of cancer, a cancer cure probably already exists but has been hidden by major pharmaceutical companies to maximise revenue from expensive cancer treatment, since a cure would be one-off but treatment is life-long.

From Is There Really a Conspiracy to Suppress Cancer Cures?:

The general story is that there is a conspiracy by the established medical industry to keep the cure for cancer hidden. This is the “cancer conspiracy” discussed on this page. The reasoning behind this theory typically goes like this:

Alleged Fact 1: Cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry.

+ Alleged Fact 2: Treatment x cures cancer so well it would destroy that industry.

=> Conclusion: Some individuals, companies, and government organisations involved in the industry are suppressing the information about x to keep their industry thriving.

Comic strip with dialog between a man who has found the cure for cancer and a man who is "sorry to hear that" because they both would now be out of their jobs

However, sources for these claims have been rather questionable, and while I definitely don't believe them myself, out of curiosity, is there any evidence for this conspiracy theory?

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I think it would help if you asked about a particular treatment, or a set of particular treatments; otherwise we would be restricted to treating the question on theoretical grounds. –  P_S Aug 10 at 9:35
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I wonder if such a thing ever happened (medical industry concealing a cure for "economical reasons"). Regrettably it isn't a good question for the site –  belisarius Aug 10 at 23:44
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Whenever I hear about "a cure for cancer," I can't help but think of this comic. –  Chuu Aug 12 at 14:52
    
Why does the guy on the left look like the stereotypical robber, with a mask over his eyes and obvious beard stubble? –  Michael Aug 12 at 15:55
    
Er, alleged reasoning. It seems to me that this question (as asked) is related to psychology rather than medical science. –  Technophile Aug 13 at 2:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 145 down vote accepted
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No, this has no credibility whatsoever, for a number of very good reasons, each of which on its own would be sufficient to debunk the hypothesis:

  • Individual motivation: people don't get into cancer research to get rich, but because they want to cure cancer, and for the prestige ("Among the factors that motivate researchers, the excitement of discovery stood out in terms of both high importance and satisfaction. Publications were viewed as more important research outcomes than patenting or commercial ventures."). Whoever found this cure would earn the gratitude and admiration of millions, achieve the biggest thing that is possible to achieve in the field they chose to dedicate their life to, and win a Nobel prize with absolute certainty (the American Cancer Society lists 47 nobel laureates they have supported). No amount of money could match that.
  • Profit: Just look at the current Sovaldi story where a cure for Hepatitis C was released - disease that is even more expensive to treat ($60,000 to $100,000 lifetime cost) than breast cancer ($23,000 to $36,000 lifetime cost). "Major pharmaceutical companies" are competitors - and whoever were the first to patent this cure would have the biggest jackpot in the history of medicine and wipe the floor with the competition. You could price this cure at $10,000 or more and still have millions of customers, so tens of billions of profits! And it would even be a steady stream of revenue, as people would continue to get cancer - unless it's some sort of vaccination, in which case, even better, every person on the planet is your customer! So for the company who found the cure, releasing it would maximise revenue - and by not releasing it, they'd risk having the competition find it and release it first...
  • Research doesn't work like that: Medical research is a community effort and works incrementally. Intermediate results are constantly published because publication record is what determines a researcher's value, and it may even be done deliberately to discourage competitors. Developing a cure from first principles in complete secrecy is simply not how it's done. It would be too slow and it's not as if you know at the beginning that your end result will be something that you might want to keep secret.
  • Cancer doesn't work like that: A singular "cure for cancer" will almost certainly never exist. That is because "Cancer is not one, but hundreds of diseases. [...] Each cancer has to be considered and treated accordingly. Each type of cancer is biologically different from the other, and each causes a whole set of different problems, which must be treated in different ways." In fact, even one tumor of a single patient often consists of multiple strains of cancerous cells that respond differently to treatments! Pretty much the only treatments that work for many different cancers are the extremely crude ones: surgery (cut it out!) and radiotherapy (burn it with death rays!), both of which are also only efficient in specific circumstances (contained, solid tumors).
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This answer is reads like a personal opinion and is seriously lacking references to verifiable facts, as is our policy. It will likely be removed. –  Sklivvz Aug 10 at 9:50
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@Sklivvz: I've tried to add references where possible. But I don't see how the question could possibly have the kind of "here is the randomized double-blind study that proves/disproves the hypothesis" perfect answer that is the ideal of Skeptics.SE. These are not personal opinions but systemic facts. –  Michael Borgwardt Aug 10 at 10:33
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I think you've done a good job -- We don't expect all our sources to be peer-reviewed, just sensible –  Sklivvz Aug 10 at 11:34
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This is one of those claims that is really hard to answer inside our constraints. Though I think Sovaldi is a very good answer to the claim that cures are not profitable. –  Fabian Aug 10 at 11:39
    
Points 1 and 2 completely sidestep the argument made by conspiracy theorists. Cost-benefit analysis works when it's cost to party A and benefit to party A. In this scenario, it's cost to party B and benefit to party A, and the basic conspiracy claim concerns the willingness of B to threaten A. Now A is faced with a whole different cost-benefit analysis. –  Ben Voigt Aug 11 at 0:28

If we look at that claim, how does it come that people believe it? Mainstream media frequently runs headlines that make it seem like the cancer cure is found.

The fact that those headline exist don't make it easy to understand why we still haven't solved cancer. There are a bunch of reasons for the current state of affairs:

1) Some of those headline actually lead to drugs that do help to cure some patients of cancer. Just in this year the FDA allowed five cancer drugs to enter the market because they believe that those drugs do provide clinical benefits to some patients.

2) Cancer cells mutate. They have many genetic mutations. If a drug manages to kill 99% of the cancer cells in a patient and the remaining 1% is immune to the drug because it has a genetic mutation the cancer grows back. That means that the ability of a drug to kill a bunch of cancer cells simply isn't enough to cure cancer. This means that pharma companies don't invest in some prospective drugs that are able to shrink the size of the cancer because shrinking the size of a cancer simply isn't enough.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

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The worst part of course, is that the cells that remain, are the ones that are resistant to the drug. They'll spread other cells which are resistant to the drug as well. You've simply created a more resilient cancer –  Cruncher Aug 11 at 12:48
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Actually, drugs that only shrink but not eliminate tumors are invested in, developed, brought to marked, and widely used. 6 more months to live are not something to scoff at, and it could also be useful in preparation for or combination with other therapies. –  Michael Borgwardt Aug 11 at 16:13
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This answer is reads like a personal opinion and is seriously lacking references to verifiable facts. It will likely be removed. –  Carlo_R. Aug 11 at 23:36
    
"how does it come that people believe it?" is related to psychology. Media runs sensationalistic headlines to increase circulation, sell advertising and stay in business. Neither of these seem strongly related to finding a cure for any specific type of cancer. –  Technophile Aug 13 at 2:09

Indeed there was a celebrated cancer cure - right at California. A group of 128 (About that number) of Terminally ill cancer patients were cured by this doctor and the California doctor's association gave two celebration dinners to acknowledge this very important - but very in-expensive, safe and nil side effects treatment , way back in the 1920s.

Of course, after this news came in papers, AMA (which is American Medical Association) just went into action and the doctor disappeared from the scene. His lab and very importantly the microscope he has painstakingly developed also got destroyed in a fire.

I just read this info from the web itself. Anyone living in California can verify this info. For More details - Google 'Doctor Royal Raymond Rife'. You will find the info I had mentioned and also a lot of info making his discovery as fake etc.

But I believe, Dr.Rife has indeed demonstrated a simple cure for Cancer and published it too.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

    
There have been numerous attempts to reproduce his methods, all of which have failed to find any clinical benefit. Use of these devices has been linked to several deaths by those who would have likely benefitted from conventional therapy. Rife machines as a whole are associated with little more than health care fraud and baseless claims of conspiracy. –  Kasierith Aug 13 at 1:30
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Please don't ask the readers to Google for it. That's not an answer. Instead, do the Google search yourself, filter out the unsupported guff, and provide direct links to empirical evidence (and a summary of what they contain). –  Oddthinking Aug 13 at 2:15
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@Kasierith: This applies to you too. –  Oddthinking Aug 13 at 2:16
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"Questionable methods of cancer management: electronic devices" (PDF). CA Cancer J Clin 44 (2): 115–27. 1994. Hills, Ben (2000-12-30). "Cheating Death". Sydney Morning Herald. Farley, Dixie (September 1996). "Investigators' Reports". FDA Consumer (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). –  Kasierith Aug 13 at 3:02

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