Doctors: No cancer deaths in 20 years

Leading Danish oncologists make a bold prediction

Doctors working with Danish cancer society Kræftens Bekæmpelse said that within 15 to 20 years, a patient receiving a cancer diagnosis may not necessarily be receiving a death sentence. Over 34,000 Danes are currently diagnosed with cancer each year, and 16,000 people die of the disease.

Jørgen Olsen, an oncologist working with the cancer society, said that within two decades, cancer will be handled by far less invasive treatments than chemotherapy and radiation, and that patients will survive.

"My assessment is that in about 15 to 20 years, no-one in Denmark will die of cancer,” Olsen told Søndagsavisen newspaper. “It will instead be a chronic illness that can be treated.”

Olsen said that researchers have become adept at decoding the genetic material of cancer cells and will be able to develop medicines that affect cancer cell metabolism and prevent them from dividing.  Malignant tumours would be put completely on hold.

Peter Sørensen, the head of oncology at Odense University Hospital, agreed with Olsen’s assessment.

“We are better able to find the characteristics of individual cancers and attack each in unique ways using new drugs,” Sørensen told Søndagsavisen.

Milder treatments
Not only will cancer no longer be deadly, but treatment of the disease will be significantly milder.

“Side effects will be things like sweating or getting a bit flushed," Olsen said. “Completely different and totally innocuous compared to the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy today.”

Olsen said another advantage of the new drugs in the pipeline is that there is no limit to how long a patient can use them.

“Chemotherapy is toxic,” he said. “There is simply a limit to how much a person can take."

Doctors compare the evolution to that of the treatment of HIV and AIDS.

“Previously, HIV was a death sentence, now with the proper medication, a patient can have a normal life span,” said Sørensen.

Too get too cocky, oncology head warns
Hans von der Maase, a professor and head of the oncology clinic at Rigshospitalet, said that treatments will lower mortality rates and increase the life expectancy of cancer sufferers. But he cautioned that predicting zero deaths may be a bit overly optimistic.

“Cancer cells are clever bastards,” he told Søndagsavisen. “If we find new ways to attack them, they find ways to adapt.”

Von der Maase said that great strides have been made in recent years and that he feels optimistic, but that it is important to improve the unhealthy lifestyle of many Danes.

"We must largely stay focused on socio-economics factors like diet, smoking, alcohol and exercise.”