“It’s been more than 3,000 years since we’ve known cancer in the medical profession. For more than three thousand years, humanity has been knocking on the door of the medical profession to find a cure. ”
Fortune March 1937
We think of cancer as a modern disease, but it is because of the metaphors that explain it. Modern biology tells us that the cell is a molecular machine. Cancer is a machine that ignores its commands and turns into an indestructible automaton.
Susan Sontag compared cancer to tuberculosis, “both mean long and difficult suffering with death on the brink.”
But tuberculosis is a disease of another century. Today’s disease is cancer.
Surgeon Sharon Nuland writes, “The cancer cell reflects the individual in today’s society. It is individualistic and rebellious. This is a non-conformist. ” Metastasis (the movement of cancer from one part of the body to another) means beyond calm.
And it has another resemblance to modern society. Tuberculosis makes the lungs hollow while cancer is an abundant disease. It suffocates by making many cells in the lungs. It is an enlarged disease, invading tissues. Builds its own colonies. Makes a safe place for himself in one of the organs and then migrates elsewhere. Finds innovations for its development, sometimes defensively, sometimes fearlessly, sometimes intensely, sometimes cleverly. Like teaching us how to survive. Facing it is like being treated differently by someone who is more skilled at surviving than we are.
A cancer cell is a surprisingly altered form of a normal cell. This is a very successful attacker. And that’s awful because of the qualities that make us successful.
Like any normal cell, the cancer cell is dependent on growth. On the division of the cell into one to two. In normal tissue this process is regulated in a very sophisticated way. It has its own special signals to grow, its own special to stop. The uncontrolled growth of cancer continues to produce generations of cells. Biologists use the term clone for cells that have a common ancestor. Cancer is a disease of the clone. Almost all known cancers begin with a common ancestor that has acquired the ability to divide and survive. There are countless generations of cancer that come out of it.
But cancer is not just a clone disease. It is also a disease of evolution. If there is growth but no evolution, cancer cells will never be able to invade, survive and spread. In each new generation, a small number are genetically different from their parents. These mutant clones survive when chemotherapy drugs are given or our immune system begins to fight them. Cancer survives the death of a large number of cells due to the survival of most feet. This rapid cycle of mutation, selection and growth makes it more and more fit for survival and growth. Many times mutations encourage more mutations. This genetic instability creates more innovations. Cancer benefits from the basic logic of evolution. No other disease does that. If our own unparalleled (and in the opinion of some, uncontrollable) success on this earth is the result of Darwin’s election, then this disease lurks within us as well. And that’s why this disease is the king of pests.
Sometimes metaphors take things elsewhere, but they can’t be avoided. While writing a book on the history of cancer, I often felt like I was writing about someone like myself. After all, it’s a distorted and mysterious reflection in the mirror.
(to be continued)