Cancer is a topic that still strikes fear in the hearts of patients. Our population is aging and the cancer diagnosis is more frequent. I have experienced it in all three spheres of my own life. I am a regular participant and supporter of various cancer fund-raisers. We have developed a distinct vocabulary to go with cancer. Terms such as “survivor”, “battle”, “aggressive”, “cure”, “beaten” and “war” are distinctly found in the cancer field. As hopeful as they sound, they can also be misleading. Just the mention of childhood cancers evokes an emotional response in all of us.
Our knowledge base of cancer has expanded exponentially in the last 40 years. Treatments are better and cancer patients are living longer lives, but we are really no closer to a “cure” than before. One major reason is that we appreciate the complex genetic nature of the process and continue to learn about the biochemical complexities. Cancer now refers to a large group of different and distinct disease entities. They all arise from within our own cellular make-up, but can be influenced by our environment. It is the reason why a single cure is not possible, anymore than a single solution to a car break-down exists. Some believe that it is part of the human genome, and erasing it may lead to more devastating consequences. The stunning feature of this belief is that it implies that the cancer process goes on in all of us during the aging process.
Funding is required to continue cancer research, but suggesting that funding will result in a cure is hopeful but can also send the wrong message. On the front lines of primary care, we deal with a “cancer” diagnosis on a regular basis. Even during medical training, I was taught that an early diagnosis is as good as a “cure”. We embrace and work with heart patients and diabetics, but mention cancer and we switch into a war-like attitude. We enjoy many rights and freedoms in our society, and there is expectation that the length of our life cycle must reach a certain milestone in order to achieve a feeling of fulfillment. In the war-like atmosphere of cancer, anything short of total anihalation seems to invoke failure and produce terror.
The bread and butter issues around cancer differ little from those of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Patients need information. They need to make informed choices about potential treatments and choices about the quality of life. Palliation refers to measures employed to help cancer patients remain comfortable and enjoy a certain quality of life, and most importantly to have the ability to choose. Palliation is a significant portion of cancer care.
We also seem to feel that cancer can be prevented. There is some evidence towards this contention. Mostly, it comes from the data that gets massaged in when we remove abnormal growths on the skin, cervix, colon, breasts and a few other areas. I have yet to hear about the sure-fire life strategy that even comes close to true prevention. It is fair to say that those who enjoy and pursue excellent health seem to be better equipped to handle a life-changing medical diagnosis.
Removing or destroying a cancer without seeing a further progression is considered a cure today. There is no sure-fire formula that reveals your life expectancy in the way Hollywood portrays it. The choices made by two patients with a similar diagnosis can differ immensely, and neither needs to be seen as “wrong”. Acceptance is the key.
● The high school student who devised a cure for cancer ... YouTube video, 3:28 min.
● Good Morning America: Doctor Destroys Opera Singer Zheng Cao's Stage Four Tumors. YouTube video, 6:23 min.
● Cancer research from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
● Forty Years’ War by Gina Kolata, New York Times. Articles in this series will examine the struggle to defeat cancer.
● Is the Cure for Cancer a Virus? By Josh Clark, Discovery Health.
● Cancer Research and Genetics, UK. The totally volunteer driven site has been created to provide a one stop reference guide on Cancer, Research and its Genetic links. See also Latest News.
● Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (CGAP) from National Cancer Insitute, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). See also Cancer Types.
● Natural Cures for Cancer by Jacquelyn Jeanty, eHow Contributor.
● Cancer Statistics from National Cancer Institute.
● Common Cancer Types. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. A-Z List of Cancers - All Cancer Types: Definition, Treatment, Prevention, Genetics, Causes, Screening and Testing, Clinic Trials, Cancer Literature, Research and Related Information, and Statistics from National Cancer Institute.