THERE is no treatment." This is the conclusion of an Egyptian papyrus, written around 3000BC, that is the oldest known description of the scourge that is now called "cancer". And so, more or less, it remained until the 20th century, for merely excising a tumour by surgery rarely eliminates it. Only when doctors worked out how to back up the surgeon's knife with drugs and radiation did cancer begin to succumb to treatment—albeit, to start with, in a pretty crude fashion.
Now, however, that crudeness is rapidly giving way to sophistication, as a new wave of cancer treatments comes to market. In 2012 more than 500 potential cancer drugs were under investigation, according to a survey by IMS Health, an American research group—over five times as many as were being developed in the next biggest category, diabetes.