DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have gone through a situation you touched on in a recent column on cancer advances, and thought I'd respond. I, too, believe that the pharmaceutical companies are not on the cutting edge of finding a cure. There is so much money involved in the treatment industry, and Big Pharma rakes in billions. If a true cure were found, their profits would collapse substantially. Scientists, on the other hand, would rejoice if they found a cure, since they are not tied to the cash flow like pharmaceutical companies are.
But enough of that. As I write this, a close family member is dealing with terminal cancer. First there was surgery, then the painful "poisoning and burning" from treatments, by which the cancer was supposedly vanquished. Four months later? Stage 4. One round of chemo was followed by an "alternative approach." An acquaintance had endured the same type of cancer 15-plus years ago, went to Mexico for treatment, and has been cancer-free since. Off went my family member, and followed the protocol precisely, expecting that the cancer was then taken care of. Honestly, those very expensive treatments didn't slow it down at all. So now we wait for the inevitable, less thousands and thousands of dollars.
Aggressive malignancies leave very few survivors. Until medicine can decode each individual's genetics and then modify a treatment specifically for that person, cancer will continue to do its deadly deed. -- S.G., via email
DEAR S.G.: The very idea of cancer is an affront to our passion for life. With cancer, a combination of events allows a "nonself" growth to be treated as self and receive all the privileges of membership. The cancer's effective use of bodily resources, its continuous growth and spread, and its ability to skip detection as an invader provide a competitive advantage over normal cells. It has also led to the current strategy of radiation and chemotherapies, which put a careful dose of poison in the system so that the cancer's constant need for sustenance will bring about its earlier demise.
While there may be similarities among cancer types, each individual creates a different spin, and there lies the rub in finding an effective treatment. There is a fine line between providing the correct dose of the right agents to hobble the cancer and destroying the body in the process.
You confess disdain for "Big Pharma," but an equal dose should be directed at bogus alternative methods. They often claim a focus on providing support for our immune systems and allowing the body to successfully weed out the cancer, but this assumes the immune system can tell the difference between friend and foe. Once the cancer has set up shop, however, such enhanced support may also provide succor to the enemy.
Finally, I totally agree with your assessment that the missing element is an ability to genetically decode an invading cancer. We need to identify treatments based on a cancer's Achilles' heel. This will happen, and we are on the road there. Science, including "Big Pharma," is working on this. Your skepticism aside, cancer treatments have made remarkable advances in recent years. In the meantime, it is incumbent on all of us to live in a way that lessens our risks. Please convey my concerns to your family member.
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