“Larry Norton sees some of the toughest cases as deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He has access to the most advanced imaging machines, the best surgeons and numerous new tumor-fighting drugs. But often the fancy technology helps only temporarily. Sometimes a big tumor will shrink dramatically during chemotherapy. Then all of a sudden it comes back in seven or eight locations simultaneously.
Norton thinks adding more mathematics to the crude science of cancer therapy will help. He says that oncologists need to spend much more time devising and analyzing equations that describe how fast tumors grow, how quickly cancer cells develop resistance to therapy and how often they spread to other organs. By taking such a quantitative approach, researchers may be able to create drug combinations that are far more effective than the ones now in use. “I have a suspicion that we are using almost all the cancer drugs in the wrong way,” he says. “For all I know, we may be able to cure cancer with existing agents.””