Cancer is a collection of diseases that may never be totally cured, but scientists are confident that vaccinations, personalized treatment, and wise lifestyle choices can help prevent and treat a considerably larger proportion of instances than is presently the case. We questioned three cancer experts for their ideas on treating cancer: Nobel winner Professor Harald Zur Hausen, Professor Walter Ricciardi, and Dr Elisabete Weiderpass. They are all members of the EU’s Horizon Europe cancer mission board, where they will assist create a clear aim for Europe in this field over the next decade. ‘Evidence of infections linked to cancer provides promise for avoiding up to half of all malignancies,’ says one researcher. If we will ever be able to cure cancer entirely, that is a question I cannot answer. We have a strong probability of dramatically lowering cancer incidence. However, the incidence, or occurrence, of cancer is now growing internationally. Cancer patients’ mortality is marginally reducing; however the increase in incidence is not compensating for the death drop. There are still many instances reported each year, and if we truly want to do something about cancer in the future, we must halt the trend. We know that several cancer risk factors are avoidable. At the time, we also know that infections have a role in around 20% of malignancies. We can effectively immunise patients against these types of cancer and virtually eradicate it, particularly in cases where vaccines are currently available, such as Hepatitis B (a cause of liver cancer) and Human Papillomavirus (which Prof. zur Hausen discovered is linked to cervical cancer).

We think we have evidence that infectious episodes cause at least 30% of all human malignancies. This at least gives optimism that new approaches will be discovered in the near future that will lead to long-term protection from those illnesses – notably colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, where evidence is emerging that specific viral episodes have a role. We just found a whole new class of infectious pathogens produced from plasmids. Plasmids are bacterial mini-chromosomes that are found in a substantial majority of colon cancer patients. These are infections that can last for decades, generating chronic inflammations, and these inflammations are the source of oxygen radicals and mutation events in cells that can lead to cancer formation. We have sequenced all of the (plasmid) genomes that we have uncovered so far, and what we discovered surprised us since it did not reflect viral or bacterial sequences. They are slightly altered bacterial plasmids that originated in certain bacteria but have learned to reproduce independently in bovine and human cells. So, in my perspective, this will hopefully allow for new methods to prevent and, in the long run, therapy of these extremely frequent malignancies. The most challenging issue is to do more fundamental research and emphasize preventative efforts to reduce the frequency of cancer occurrence by preventing cancer precursor lesions with surgical procedures. To cure cancer, we need to enhance the therapy regimen. And we need to develop some mechanism to provide long-term, lifelong patient protection. Because cancer is a broad term for various diseases, we cannot take a comprehensive approach – a cure for every form of cancer – but we may devise a broad strategy. It requires collaboration among several stakeholders, not just in the health sector, but also in the social sector, because many of the behaviours that contribute to the start of cancer are changeable via lifestyle and preventive. We must also take advantage of technological advancements. I’m optimistic we’ll find a better way to combat this sickness. We now have the ability to collect a large amount of data that, in theory, maybe tied to genome sequencing, because, as far as we know, some malignancies are genetically determined. We know that the majority are caused by five variables, four of which are behaviors – alcohol and cigarette use, eating too much and not getting enough physical activity, and pollution. Digital technology may include a large amount of data, ranging from the most general to the most detailed features of a single person.

Understanding a person’s unique traits allows us to create a more personalized and precision-targeted strategy, avoiding what happens presently, when we supply a single medicine, for example, for every type of breast cancer. We know that causes adverse effects in some women who do not benefit from the medicine. So, taking a look at a subset of women with breast cancer is the route we need to take.

Immunotherapy (in which the patient’s immune system is stimulated to target the cancer) has also shown astounding outcomes. Some malignancies, such as lung cancer and metastatic melanoma, were formerly untreatable; however, we now have the ability to treat them and, in some circumstances, provide a major cure for the disease. I believe we may be positive on this front as well. Cancer is a disease family. There are over a hundred distinct forms of cancer. Some varieties are treatable and cured, particularly when diagnosed early and in wealthier nations, while others do not know how to cure.

We already know how to identify and treat certain cancers, such as early-stage breast cancer, testicular cancer, and some forms of leukemia, and we also know how to treat them exceedingly well. There are numerous cancer forms where significant progress has been achieved, yet there are several cancer types where we don’t know what to do. . Prostate cancer is a reasonably prevalent cancer type for which we still don’t know the best approaches to identify it early or whether it’s even helpful to detect it early. We don’t have effective screening methods, and we don’t know how to tell the difference between slow-growing varieties that don’t require much intervention and fast-growing ones that do. So prostate cancer is undoubtedly one cancer that poses a significant public health problem since it affects a huge number of men. With a large rise in the number of cancer patients projected over the coming decades owing to increased life expectancy, governments are being urged to establish cancer prevention and control programmers more swiftly and rigorously, as 30-40% of malignancies are avoidable (in European countries; for other countries, the proportion of preventable cancers is even higher). What regular Europeans can do is learn the European Cancer Code. These are 12 evidence-based methods for lowering your cancer risk and detecting certain tumours early. Smoking, for example, is still responsible for half of all avoidable cancers in Europe. Other examples include an unsuitable diet that lacks fruits and vegetables and a diet that leads to obesity.

recent breakthroughs in cancer research


CAR-T treatment uses gene therapy techniques not to fix disease-causing genes but to turbocharge T cells, immune system soldiers that cancer too often can evade. Researchers filter those cells from a patient’s blood, reprogram them to harbor a “chimeric antigen receptor” or CAR that zeroes in on cancer, and grow hundreds of millions of copies. Returned to the patient, the revved-up cells can continue multiplying to fight disease for months or years.

It’s a completely different way to harness the immune system than popular immunotherapy drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors” that treat a variety of cancers by helping the body’s natural T cells better spot tumors. CAR-T cell therapy gives patients stronger T cells to do that job.