Cancer experts call for radical review

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The "cut, burn, poison" approach to cancer treatment should be reviewed, according to leading doctors, who say a change in tactics is necessary to combat the disease.

The doctors say the aim of current therapies to eliminate as many cancer cells as possible is bound to fail in many cases:"We are not alone in the belief that the killing model, whilst having offered substantial advances, is not likely to lead to a cure."

Instead, Professor Michael Baum, of University College in London, and two Canadian colleagues are calling for investment in futuristic therapies which "re-establish" control over cancer cells, limiting, or even reversing their growth, to replace radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and in some cases surgery.

Professor Baum, who was instrumental in the setting up of the NHS breast screening programme, has since criticised the scheme as diverting money from trials of new drugs and the development of new therapies which may save more lives in the long term.

The development of cancer is a process in which regulatory systems in the body controlling cell growth have broken down. The defects in the system must be identified and a means of correcting or over-riding them developed so that a potentially fatal cancer can be turned into a chronic disease which can be held in check for years, according to the report by Professor Baum and colleagues in tomorrow's issue of The Lancet.

They advocate the collection and analysis of cancer cells to elucidate the defects in them as an aid to the development of new and novel therapies. "In time, a library of cell colonies, representing the known metabolic defects associated with growth, invasion, and metastasis [spread of the disease], would be available," they write.

These cells could then be tested with new drugs to determine if it is possible to correct the abnormalities. Ultimately, a newly diagnosed patient would have his or her cancer cells analysed to identify their particular defects. The most aggressive cells could then be treated in an effort to "tame" the disease.

"Treatment will be a likely mix of restoring abnormal pathways where possible, eradicating tissue that cannot be disciplined ... and constant monitoring for metabolic escape," the report concludes.