by Dr. Iain Corness
Beware of “Breakthroughs”
Right at the end of 2013 I came across
an article trumpeting “Cancer therapy is breakthrough of the year.”
Naturally, I read this with interest, as cancer and its treatment/cure is
always an attention grabber. After all, we managed to get rid of smallpox,
and polio is almost eradicated, so obviously “cancer” is next.
This new “breakthrough” is in the field of immunotherapy, where it is
claimed that it is possible to convert your own T-Cells into “killer” cells,
and these converted T-Cells then attack the cancer cells, leading to a cure,
However, remember that if you want to attract some funding for your medical
project, just mention the word “cancer” and get an item in the popular press
and you’ve got your foot in the door. You see, the popular media also like
the C word because it helps sell newspapers.
How many times have you read “breakthrough” as regards some form of cancer
treatment (which will require another five years of expensive testing)? For
many people, this will give them the hope that “cancer” has finally been
beaten. Unfortunately, this is not so. Certainly there have been positive
reports following use of the new drug called epilimumab, but there’s two
sides to the coin. The drug only works in certain cancers, but that does
include melanoma and leukemia. Even then, the percentage of people
responding to the treatment was only around 30 percent. Taking the figures
for melanoma, it is reported that the statistics derived from 1,800 people
with melanoma indicated that 22 percent of sufferers were still alive three
years later. Looking at it another way, that is 78 percent died before three
years. The final downside is the cost. Try 3.8 million THB per treatment.
Here’s another carcinogen (cancer producing substance). Exhaust from diesel
engines causes lung cancer, a World Health Organization (WHO) agency
claimed, citing a review of studies. (Baht busses to grind to a halt?)
Diesel exhaust also was linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, said
the International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France. The
group published the findings after a review over eight days by a panel of
scientists. An earlier review, in 1988, classified diesel engine exhaust as
Hundreds of years ago, a very smart doctor called Paracelsus came up with
the observation that “dosage alone determines poisoning.” This was a real
breakthrough. To poison someone, there was a certain dose necessary for this
Lots of reasons for this. With human beings there is a characteristic we all
have called ‘homeostasis’. This is where the body will try to return itself
to its original condition. In other words, repair itself. Broken bones mend,
lungs will expel foreign material and livers even regenerate themselves.
Provided the rate of repair is faster than the rate of destruction, the body
will be fine. However, if the rate of destruction exceeds the rate of
repair, then you are in trouble.
Now let’s get back to the shock-horror headlines that exhaust from diesel
engines causes lung cancer. It probably does, but at what dose? How many of
us are subjected to diesel exhaust 12 hours a day, for example? I suppose a
baht bus driver might be, but it would be rare. Most are parked at the side
of the road for at least six of the 12 hours in their shift. Do our diesel
baht bus drivers have more lung cancers than anyone else around here? Has
anyone taken the time to look?
But, remember that according to the WHO, cancer killed around eight million
people worldwide, and was the leading cause of death globally. Lung cancer
was the most lethal type, and accounted for 18 percent of all cancer deaths.
Unfortunately, even though we understand more of the nature of cancer, there
is no universal “cure” as yet. However, catching cancers at an early stage
gives you a much better prognosis (outcome). And you can only do that if you
look. Check-ups are of value. And finally, don’t smoke - we have shown that
the incidence of all cancers is greater in smokers compared to non-smokers.
Make a positive decision today to give up cigarettes.