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Sun Jun 2, 2013, 04:02 PM

Keep Your Cures Off My Cancer


Since my diagnosis a year and a half ago,http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/134431/congratulations_its_a_girl_ps?next=21 I've received countless recommendations for purported cures and treatments for cancer. Most have been respectful and well-intentioned recommendations from friends and family members who only want to see me around for as long as possible. Others, maybe not so much.

Being a target for criticism comes with a blogger's territory. I learned pretty quickly that I have to have thick skin if I am to keep writing publicly about my personal life. However, I admit I was surprised in the beginning to experience open hostility from strangers who disagreed -- vehemently -- with my health care choices. Individuals who had no qualms (anonymously) blasting someone actively dealing with cancer.

Some of the loving comments I received included gems like these:

"Have the courage to REFUSE chemo and you will have a better chance of living to 100."

"It is NOT a cancer 'battle' when you put all four paws in the air and blindly and stupidly trust the cancer industry."

"Chemo is an over-priced highly ineffective chemical attack on your immune system which if it was healthy to BEGIN with you would have never gotten cancer at all."

"When you're ready to stop poisoning yourself, the real, natural cure is out there."

"If you were evolved enough to recognize the truth about the pharmaceutical industry, you wouldn't be risking leaving your daughter without a mother."

"You are part of the problem, a pawn for the cancer machine."

And a related blog post from the excellent Respectful Insolence blog at scienceblogs.

On “helping” that is anything but

Cancer is a bitch. Depending upon what organ is involved and what kind of cancer it is, it can be incredibly hard to cure. All too often, it is incurable, particularly when it involves the brain, pancreas, esophagus, or other organs. People wonder why, after over 40 years of a “war on cancer,” we don’t have better treatments and more cures. As I’ve explained before, it’s because cancer is incredibly complex, and cancer cells have incredibly messed-up genomes. Even worse, cancer uses evolution against any efforts to treat it, producing such marked heterogeneity among tumor cells that not only are different cancers very different but individual cells within a single cancer cell can be very different. That’s an incredibly powerful weapon. Still, there has been progress, and some have even developed strategies to try to turn evolution against cancer.

Unfortunately, many of the treatments that work and result in actual long term survival in cancer patients (more commonly called remissions or, even more colloquially, cures, although oncologists don’t like to use that latter word) involve surgery or toxic therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation. Indeed, most solid tumors that are curable are cured with surgery, and the chemotherapy and radiation are usually the “icing on the cake” that decreases the risk of recurrence, while most “liquid” tumors (like leukemias) are treated primarily with chemotherapy. These treatments are difficult, and too frequently they produce significant morbidity. On the other hand, we don’t (yet) know of anything else that works. Newer targeted therapies, with a few exceptions, have been relatively disappointing. Don’t get me wrong; they do work very well with much less toxicity for selected tumors, but it’s hard to conclude that they’ve lived up to the sometimes excessive hype.

Because cancer, other than early stage solid cancers that can be completely extirpated with surgery, are so hard to cure, it’s always interesting to see what happens when a believer in alternative medicine is unfortunate enough to be stricken with cancer. After all, real oncologists understand what an intractable and devious foe cancer can be. All too often, to the alternative cancer quack practitioner, curing cancer is a matter of readjusting that life energy, giving that herb, or cleansing those toxins (all too often involving various solutions poured into the rectum and colon). It’s all so easy, and such high success rates are claimed that you’d think that alt-med practitioners always use alternative cancer treatments. True, sometimes they do, with predictably disastrous results, but more often the stories I see resemble this story by Joanna Montgomery, a blogger who is battling cancer right now, entitled Keep Your Cures Off My Cancer. In it, she first links to the article describing her diagnosis, which is as heart-rending a cancer story as I’ve ever heard, in which she discovered her diagnosis after the birth of her daughter:

Good reads, both posts. And both point out why medical woo, whether it's anti-vax bullshit, anti-fluoridation nonsense, or quack medical cures, should be exposed for the harm they do.

(Cross posted from GD. These are 2 excellent blog posts, and will probably get lost in fast-moving GD)


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