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Cure For Cancer
Marcus: Curing cancer, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce?
Wesley: Wouldn't be cost-effective. I'm sure we make a lot from cancer.
Marcus: Yes, the patent holder is a client.
Angel, "Time Bomb"

A specific type of MacGuffin, the Cure for Cancer is something like a modern-day panacea. It is the ultimate medical achievement that everyone is looking for. Some people will want to sell it, some will want to spread it for free, and some will want to destroy it.

For some reason (half Fantastic Aesop and half Status Quo Is God), the cure often has some horrific side effect—it causes zombies, is made from people, or what have you. Often combined with Withholding the Cure.

Note that the reason we don't have this in Real Life (and the reason it is so sought-after) is because "cancer" is an extremely general term for any number of diseases. Some of them have had cures discovered (or at least effective long-term treatments, or preventative vaccinations), but no miracle cure for the whole lot is forthcoming, and it's quite probable it never will be.

Minor variations include cures for other terminal, incurable diseases, such as Parkinson's and AIDS. As these are becoming more treatable, however, miracle cures for them are showing up less in fiction.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Comic Books  
  • During the "Dark Reign" storyline, Norman Osborn invented a cure for cancer... and immediately weaponized it in order to try to kill Deadpool - who had major blackmail material on him.
  • Wakanda in the Black Panther has had a cure for cancer for centuries, but they refuse to share it with the rest of the world because nowhere else deserves it.
  • There's a Superman What If? story in which Lex Luthor apparently goes straight and starts using his brain for good, and he finds a cure for cancer.
  • In Squadron Supreme, Tom Thumb travels to the future to steal the Scarlet Centurion's Panacea Potion (which can supposedly cure anything) to cure his cancer. However, Thumb discovered that the Potion consisted of no more than penicillin and a few complex vitamins; it worked with the people of the Centurion's time since over the many centuries the human species' immune systems had been improved through eugenics, but it was ineffective with people of the Twentieth Century.
  • In the Marvel Comics "Death of Captain Marvel" plot arc, all the genius scientist superheroes work together to find a cure for the dying captain's cancer. Which does bring up the question of why they didn't do that years before instead of spending their time beating up bank robbers. More annoyingly, because Reed Richards Is Useless, the cures they did find, but wouldn't work on Mar-Vell because of his powers, are never released to the general public (as seen by the Marvel writers never mentioning them again).
  • In Marvel Comics, the Venom symbiote feeds off of Eddie Brock's cancer when they're joined, keeping it at bay. After losing the symbiote, Brock encounters Martin Li, the good half of the supervillain Mister Negative, and Li's Healing Hands cures Brock's cancer permanently... which the side-effect of turning him into Anti-Venom. Something to do with his white blood cells and remnants of the symbiote. It's a comic book, just roll with it.
  • The plot of Doctor Strange: The Oath revolves around "Otkid's Elixir", a magic potion which Doc hopes will cure his manservant Wong's brain tumor. Naturally a corrupt pharmaceuticals company bent on Withholding the Cure interferes with him every step of the way.
  • In New X-Men: Academy X, Prodigy is shown a vision of what would happen if he has the mental block preventing him from permanently gaining the knowledge he absorbs removed. The first thing he does after he leaves the school is work with his old roommate, Elixer, and he creates a cure for both cancer and AIDS (with the promise of curing every major disease on the planet) that he distributes around the world for free... at the cost of Elixer's life, since Prodigy created the cure by cutting his friend up too much.
  • In Transmetropolitan Spider keeps a bag of anti-cancer genes in his bathroom. Comes in handy with all the cigarettes and other assorted drugs he and his filthy assistants and mutant cat take.

     Film  
  • Medicine Man. Dr. Robert Campbell (Sean Connery) discovers a cure for cancer and then loses it.
  • In the Will Smith version of I Am Legend, scientists genetically modified the Measles virus in order to create a cure for cancer. Unfortunately it mutated and one of the side effects was a Vampire Apocalypse.
  • The T-Virus in the Resident Evil films was created to fix nerve damage, regenerate limbs and cure diseases. Unfortunately, it worked a little too well, causing those infected to continue moving long after death.
  • The scientists in Deep Blue Sea were growing giant super-smart sharks to harvest chemicals from the sharks brains that could be used to cure Alzheimer. Unfortunately the process involved GROWING GIANT SUPER SMART SHARKS!
  • And in Rise of the Planet of the Apes they were growing super-smart apes as test subjects to find a cure for Alzheimer's, only to find that their latest drug 1) kills humans and 2) MAKES APES EVEN MORE SUPER SMART!
  • In Daybreakers, when a human is turned into a vampire, it cures all of their ailments, including cancer. It also freezes their bodies at the age they were when they turned. Too bad they can only drink human blood which is in very short supply. That is, until a working substitute is found near the end
  • The machines that Elysium makes use of are manufactured by a Mega Corp. known as Armadyne. They are known as the Med-Pod 3000, and they'll cure anything from Crow's Feet to Cancer. All it takes is a simple scan and brief surgery. Max DaCosta is trying to get to Elysium because he is dying from extreme radiation exposure, and using a Med-Pod would save his life. Frey, his childhood friend, is also desperate to get to Elysium because her daughter is dying of leukemia.

     Literature  

  • Succession mentions at one point that every time the main gun is fired, the crew develop "the simplest and most easily cured cancers" as a side effect.
  • In the novel The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman, cancer is eradicated — and it's discovered, too late, that it was the downside of an important part of the metabolism, which has also been eradicated in the process, drastically reducing human lifespan.
  • In the satirical book "Looking Backwards at the 80s (written in 1979) it's discovered that clubbing baby harp seals to death causes their brains to release a chemical that cures cancer.
  • 'Cancer cure=zombies' also appears in the Newsflesh series.
  • In Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, a cure was made for Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, people without the disease started abusing it because of the enhanced mind capabilities it gave them, and this led to a generation of children with a disease called hyperempathy syndrome, in which they feel the perceived emotions of others.
  • In Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, the main characters are clones created to be used as unlimited organ donors for the cure for cancer.
  • In the Neil Gaiman short story Changes, a cure for cancer known as "rebooting" is developed, which, while it cures any case of cancer overnight, also has the minor side effect of switching the patient's biological sex.
  • A plot point in the earliest issues of Perry Rhodan. One important reason the Human Aliens stranded on the moon are even willing to consider working together with the primitive humans who've only just managed to land there themselves is because Earth medicine has recently developed a cure for the disease that threatens the life of the alien expedition's scientific leader — a form of leukemia.

     Live Action TV  

  • An episode of The Twilight Zone had an alien come to Earth, landing near a small Mexican town. The Mexicans distrusted him/it, and eventually killed it, but not before it tried to give them a gift in a book, which they burned. A nearby white scientist who had seen this happen but was held back from doing anything grabs the book and puts it out. He reads the inscription out loud.
    "To the people of Earth. As a gesture of our goodwill here is the formula for curing all forms of cancer." The rest is burned.
  • In Stargate SG-1, the Goa'uld symbiont can cure cancer, among other diseases. Jacob Carter became a Tok'ra host for this reason.
    • Tretonin does the same thing, though the original recipe for it used defective symbiotes so it wasn't as effective as it could have been. Also, if people ever stopped taking it (and the planet in question was running out quickly), they would die.
    • While the formula for Tretonin was later altered to allow the people of Pangara to safely come off the drug and/or make it less addictive, Jaffa who switched to Tretonin to free themselves from their reliance on Goa'uld symbiotes, end up dependent on taking the drug to maintain their immune system.
  • The (initial) plot of Crusade revolved around a search for a cure for an alien plague.
  • In one episode of Seven Days, the cure for cancer mutates into a plague that wipes out all life on earth.
  • In Torchwood, there's a drug called "Reset" which "restores the human body to its factory settings." It can cure cancer, AIDS, diabetes, pretty much everything... but then you die from a parasitic infection.
  • An episode of The Outer Limits has a scientist trying to develop an effective Knockout Gas to be used by the riot police. However, despite the numerous trials, the gas still has a 20% lethality rate. One experiment results in the test monkey not only surviving but also becoming immune to any and all disease or poison. The scientist's Corrupt Corporate Executive brother wants to withhold this cure-all from the general population, pointing out that this would result in overpopulation. However, he uses the drug himself to cure his hereditary condition. In the end, though, it's revealed that the drug's effect is extremely temporary. In fact, it rapidly drains all the body's resources, leaving the person a frail shell only surviving through the use of life-sustaining machines.
    • Another episode involves the use of nanites to monitor and repair cells. However, their "repair" feature doesn't appear to have a limit, and they start improving what they see as flaws of the human body. The person who injects himself with them tests his ability to hold his breath underwater... and the nanites end up giving him gills. Eventually, he also gets eyes on the back of his head to improve his vision. In the end, the inventor of the nanites, his friend, ends up having to kill him. It should be noted that the nanites are still in the testing phase, and the guy only takes them because he has terminal cancer.
  • A throw-away line in Time Trax mentions that cancer has been cured between the 20th and the 22nd centuries.

     Memetic Mutation  

     Newspaper Comics  

  • In the 4/17/11 installment of Curtis, a cure for cancer is found in the Film Within a Strip "The Clam." Too bad the scientist who discovers it turns into a giant clam before he can tell anyone.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In Chrononauts, you can time-travel to The Future and grab it, either as part of a victory condition or to trade in for some other bonus.

     Video Games  

  • In some installments of the Civilization series, "Cure for Cancer" is a "wonder of the world" that a civilization is able to build.
  • The Matrix Path Of Neo has a Chinese herbalist who tries to make a cure for an unnamed terminal illness...for his young Granddaughter. A shot at the end of the level shows the front page of a newspaper that reads, 'Miracle cure heals girl.'

     Webcomics  

  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dracula discovered the cure for cancer and hid it on Mars.
    Dracula: It's really funny, when you figure it out it's going to seem so obvious. But I don't want to give it away. It'll be really funny.
  • Keychain of Creation (an Exalted webcomic) has two demigods traveling Creation undercover.
    Marena: That means no curing cancer willy-nilly.
    Misho: Oh, but it's so easy once you know how to do it!
    Marena: It's still not period, mister.
  • PHD, "Tales from the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center", which is mostly about debunking the idea that that there is One Singular cure for cancer.

     Western Animation  

  • Near the beginning of the animated Superman: Doomsday film Superman is shown hanging out in the Fortress of Solitude trying to find a cure for cancer. Unfortunately he can never quite get it, and he wonders aloud how he can build a robot that can see the future but fail at curing a regular human disease.
    • Meanwhile Lex Luthor hasn't cured cancer yet, but he has cured Muscular Dystrophy, and is also working on AIDS and Bird Flu. He plans to reduce the cure's potency and turn it into a lifetime treatment for perennial income.
  • A Robot Chicken sketch with the Popeye gang had a guardian angel show Wimpy a world where he never lived a la It's a Wonderful Life - except it was a virtual paradise where a cure for cancer had been found... by Alice the Goon!
  • Played for Laughs in South Park, where the cure for AIDS turns out to be injecting large amounts of finely shredded cash money into the bloodstream.

     Real Life 

  • Gleevec, Taxol, Cannabinoids. No, really, and etc, etc.
  • Antimatter. No, really.
  • Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemo therapy are actually rather efficient assuming the disease was identified at an early stage.
  • Experimental therapies showing promise include engineered nanobodies which attach specifically to cancerous cells and either deliver apoptosis-inducing chemicals without harming the healthy tissue or simply allow the body's immune system to recognize cancer as a hostile entity. This kind of therapy requires custom-tailored nanobodies made specifically to match the type of cancerous cells manifest in a patient. As advances in cheaply and efficiently sequencing human genomes make the procedure of recognizing cancerous mutations simpler, it is quite probable that personalized medicine will be the key to defeating cancer on a case-by-case basis.

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