Why is there no cure for cancer yet? - (11/26/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mr. Harrison came into the pharmacy, looking sad. He handed the pharmacist a large bag. Inside the bag were the many medications taken by his wife, who had recently succumbed to cancer. Mr.Harrison said to the pharmacist, “With all the innovations in technology and breakthroughs in medicine, why is there still no cure for cancer?” The pharmacist explained that two factors complicate finding an end to a disease that affects most of the human race. First, cancer is not a single disease. Second, cancer is too much of a moneymaker. 

In humans, approximately 100 types of malignancies (abnormal cell growth) exist. The many causes of cancer  - chemical, radiation, viruses – confuse disease prognosis. Genetics also plays a pivotal role, as in breast cancer caused by specific abnormal genes (corrupted HER2 genes) that can pass through a family.

Indeed, many new therapies have emerged in the last several decades, which have increased the likelihood that a cancer patient can survive. Yet, the health care system cannot adequately control diseases like pancreatic cancer and, thus, the 5-year survival rate of that neoplasm is a dismal 5%. Also, researchers have discovered that bacteria in the digestive system can be directly carcinogenic and plays a significant role in gastric and colon cancers. Hence, approaches in treating those malignancies have evolved over the years. If all this research sounds costly, that’s because it is. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) receives roughly $6 billion a year to put towards medicine and equipment. NCI gets its funds from the Congress as part of the federal budget. However, Big Pharma – the collection of the major pharmaceutical companies – remains the most profitable industry in America. 

Gross margin is the amount of money you have left after you pay to make a product, which you then sell at a higher price. When a company has a high gross margin, a greater percentage of each dollar generated by the company becomes actual profit. The higher the gross margin, the more muscle a company has to raise prices and to reap higher profits. In most industries, a 10% to 30% gross margin is considered excellent. But let us look at Big Pharma. Among top pharmaceutical companies in 2018, Celgene  (Summit, NJ), manufacturer of cancer drugs, had the highest gross margin at 93.1%; Amgen (Thousand Oaks, CA), another maker of oncology products, had a gross margin of 82.5%. Thus, the more drug companies raise prices, the higher their gross margin.   

So, profits, not patients, are the huge woody for Big Pharma companies and their investors. The American Cancer Society (ACS) accepts multimillion-dollar hand-outs from drug companies, which, in turn, control everything the ACS does and promotes. You can bet that the emphasis is not on how the carcinogenic food industry is killing us, but the companies' newest and most expensive product, possibly toxic because it was rushed through the drug approval process. And perhaps not much better than existing, usually cheaper therapies. They are counting on us to get cancer so they can reap BIG profits. 

Fighting cancer is a bit more than finding the right drug for the disease. Often, cancer can be prevented by maintaining a certain lifestyle: not smoking, eating healthy, exercise. But when cancer hits, one needs to not “put all eggs into one basket.” Cancer is money in the bank to Big Pharma. These corporations post significant earnings for every case of cancer they can drag out. The longer they keep someone on their chemotherapy, the more money they make. If they actually cured the disease, their profits would take a sizeable hit. If you get diagnosed with cancer, consider the many treatment venues that exist, from nutrition to body awareness. Take your chemo, but be conscious that it is just one element in treating these difficult diseases.  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at 


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