Prostate Cancer Has A Will To Live

I just watched a lecture by a prominent oncologist who stated PCa is so hard to eradicate because it has a will to live and finds ways to defeat all the new drugs thrown at it. Makes you wonder...why is cancer which is immortal and has a will to live so intent on killing its host and thereby itself. Maybe Nature which is only interested in the survival of a species uses cancer as a primary tool to achieve its ends.

25 Replies

  • Is the lecture online? If so, can you give us the URL for it?

  • I think that is nonsense. Cancer does not have a will so it cannot have a will to live. Nor does it "find" ways to live, in any sense that means it is "looking" for a way, or "trying" to find a way. It is true that some cancer cell lines are immortalized. The HeLa line is an example. This does not mean that any individual cell will live "forever" however, but that the cell line continues to reproduce: the reproductive mechanism seems to have become stable.

    Cancer cells by definition have a messed up reproductive system. So in part it is like making a copy on a copy machine, and then making a copy of the copy. Except in the case of cancer, you are not making a copy of a document, you are making a copy of the copy machine, so not only is each copy getting potentially worse, but the mechanism to make copies (and correct any mistakes) is getting potentially worse. The copies get worse almost always by pieces breaking, but some of the pieces, when they work, are there to hide abilities, and when those pieces break, those hidden abilities may become manifest. All cells have (in theory) the same DNA, but you don't want your prostate cells to start behaving like bone cells, even though they the same DNA as bone cells, but some prostate cells do act like that, in part, and badly.

  • I have seen copy machines that produce a copy better than the original.

  • A copy of something can be more appealing that the original. And a germ line mutation can have some advantage over the true descendant - this is the idea behind evolution. But the odds are not that way.

  • Read Emperor of Maladies by Siddharth Mukherjee

  • Read it and watched the Ken Burns film based on it.

    Was there something in particular, or did you just like it?

  • Great book. Not specifically about prostate cancer, but about the history of cancer research and treatments. Learned a lot. Interesting to see how many "groundbreaking" treatments wound up doing more harm than good. A lesson to be learned by all of us here.

  • huh?

  • I don't know. Cancer is normal cell reproduction/replacement run amok. 'Aggressive' and 'malignant' are appropriate terms and if cancer doesn't have a 'will to live' it certainly has a 'will to reproduce ... and metastasize'. Cancer isn't our friend. Luckily we have in the form of surgeons and pharmaceutical researchers on our side. And, of course, fellow survivors on this and other sites.

  • I don't think it is "certain" that cancer has a "will to live" or a "will to metastasize" or a will of any kind. I don't think it is even a useful fiction.

    Are you suggesting that perhaps a psychological warfare approach to "break its will" might be useful? Band-aids that play heavy metal music all day long possibly, or keep it awake for days on end?

  • The only way to get rid of prostate cancer is to die

  • dont forget "invent a time machine".

    I also wonder of sex change as a solution. Women dont get prostate cancer. seems unfair.

  • So I wonder if a transgender person would be immune to PCa. And, I know this has been discussed, but I am thinking out loud, would estrogen inhibit PCa? Hmm.

  • Neither do men get the "silent killer" ovarian cancer. But I wouldn't say "that's not fair"

  • So far....

  • So far...

  • That's A Very Thought Provoking comment. A bit daunting, however, and cancer cells can be starved and die, so no cancer is immortal. Not even our terminology regarding it is immortal as language mutates,technology advances,new ways of achieving remission grow. Have faith in that truth. I can't speak to the theory of survival of the fittest and nature's way, as I do not think anyone yet knows why cancer cells exist nor why we all have cells with such potential. But I strongly believe that food and environment and the ways of our fast paced world have more to do with nurturing cancer cells, than does nature. I hurt for you, in your thought that nature itself is out to destroy you. Please count the many ways nature gives you life, a smile many times a day, miracles just outside your door and still working inside your body. I wish you healing.

  • About 150 years ago, the art critic John Ruskin coined the term "pathetic fallacy" for the trend in poetry to assign human attributes to all aspects of nature. I think it unhelpful to say that cancer has "a will to live".

    Normal cells have survival mechanisms when stressed. The basic defense against high levels of cell death due to bacterial or viral insult is activation of nuclear factor-kappaB [NF-kB]. NF-kB is chronically activated in cancer. Other mechanisms involve heat shock proteins & hypoxia-inducible factors, but there are many more. Cancer cells are stressed. Therapy increases the stress. They react in a knee-jerk fashion (oops! Another pathetic fallacy!) as any cell will.

    Cancer is a chance event. All long-lived species have telomeres at the end of their chromosomes. They shortens with cell division (except in stem cells which produce the protective enzyme telomerase). In effect, they act as cell division counters. When the telomere becomes very short, further division cannot occur. Restoration of telomerase to prevent telomere shortening is common in cancer.

    The telomere mechanism (aka the Hayflick limit) is indicative of the error rate in the division process. Cells contain a number of mechanisms to correct such errors or send themselves into the cell death process. Limiting the number of divisions is the failsafe.

    & it works pretty well, since cancer tends to emerge when humans have left the breeding & rearing stage. Unfortunately, evolution can't address post-reproduction conditions.

    Dr. Myers complains that the mindset of PCa researchers is to think in terms of monotherapy. The escape pathways that lead to treatment resistance are well known. Why, for instance, do we not receive NF-kB inhibitors? This question was posed over a decade ago:

    "The cytotoxicity of chemotherapeutic agents is attributed to apoptosis. Acquired resistance to the effects of chemotherapy has emerged as a significant impediment to effective cancer therapy. One feature that cytotoxic treatments of cancer have in common is their activation of the transcription factor nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), which regulates cell survival. NF-kappaB activation suppresses the apoptotic potential of chemotherapeutic agents and contributes to resistance. What evidence is there that inhibitors of NF-kappaB might promote apoptosis in cancer cells and can NF-kappaB inhibitors be used to overcome resistance to chemotherapeutic agents?"


  • When an oncologist says that 'cancer has a will to live', what I hear is frustration by someone who is essentially admitting that the collective knowledge in his/her field is insufficient to control/eliminate the cancer by means of chemotherapy. They may be on the wrong track. Instead of trying to kill cancer, IMHO a more prudent approach would be to find ways to empower the body's natural immune system, which has an infinitely greater knowledge of how to destroy cancer than any man-made toxins.

  • Your post has two unconnected ideas.

    1. How to understand what a doctor means by "will to live", but focusing on chemotherapy without explaining why you exclude radiation and surgery as relevant.

    2. A suggestion that the researchers should spend more time looking at the immune system track. The notion that the immune system knows how to kill cancer is not a self evident idea, since a) it is not self evident that the immune system should be able to kill your own cells, and b) there is evidence that the immune system plays a part in making cancer more deadly (specifically "TAMs" -tumor associated macrophages")

  • Lymph nodes are a key venue for the immune system, so cancer in the lymph nodes is like criminals in charge of a police station.

  • Shift paradigm for a moment. Micro-metastates or the mutated cells floating around in your vascular and lymph system. Does your treatment attack at the site of the mets? Does it attack areas unseen? Kill the buggers in one area only to have recurrence somewhere else?

    Yes cancer has a will to live by happily reproducing mutated cells. What does do know harm mean? Please discuss these questions with your oncologist.

    Note: I have not seen my Urologist in over 14 years. I spent 2 years with my two Radation Oncologist and the next 12 plus with my Medical Oncologist. Recognizing that my path may or may not be right, it what I did. But what you do, keep kicking that bastard.

    Gourd Dancer

  • If cancer is a change to the rate of reproduction of a cell, It does not follow that it will inevitably give rise to mutations, since a change to reproduction rate can be a stable change to the DNA. For example: the HeLa line.


  • It is an ongoing fight once you have prostate cancer.

  • I like to think about cancer in terms of a cell factory. Somewhere along the line, the process has been corrupted and is now turning out a defective (and dangerous) product. The key to the cure is shutting down the factory (oncogene pathway disruption) or fixing it (gene editing).

    I heard that CRISPR trials have started in China and will start next year in the US. Check out this relatively readable explanation here:

    Hang in there.

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