Monday, August 24, 2015

The latest from BS Anderson...bad news comes in threes.

The American Cancer Society is tracking a worrisome rise in second cancers. To be clear, these are not mere recurrences of the original disease, but rather a different type of cancer in a different area. Here's a summary of the trend-line, from the linked story: 

"About 19 percent of cancers in the United States now are second-or-more cases, a recent study found. In the 1970s, it was only 9 percent. Over that period, the number of first cancers rose 70 percent while the number of second cancers rose 300 percent."
This raises a number of questions that might at first seem snarky but are thoroughly valid, even by the admission of some courageous souls within Cancer Inc. 

1, Do we know as much about cancer as we think we do? (One is reminded of that ridiculous line from the MD Anderson ad: "Cancer, we know you even better than you know yourself.") Are these "new" and "different" cancers really entirely new forms of disease...or could they be unexpected mutations of the same cancer cells that were present originally? 

2, Are some people cancer-prone? We already know that when it comes to certain types of cancer, e.g. breast cancer, the answer is Yes. But is there more to this predisposition than we realize? Can such people ever really be "cured" of cancer, or will the first cancer give way inevitably to a second?

3, To what extent are the second cancers caused by the treatment for the first cancers? This is not in any way as curmudgeonly as it sounds, but rather is acknowledged fact within the cancer community. Browse around Google and check for yourself. 

Bottom line, we have even more reason to take ads like Anderson's with about a half-pound of salt. Yeah, you maymaybeat this cancer...but even if you do, that may not be the last you see of your positive-thinking pals at BS Anderson.


Henriette said...

I had to comment on this, because it's been something I've been thinking about for a while, especially in regard to mammograms. I'm 45 and have not gotten a mammogram and won't until I'm 50, because the research and my own doctor, are so blurry on whether or not mammograms help women without a history of family breast cancer. There are a lot of false positives with mammograms, especially if a woman has had numerous mammograms and fleshy breasts. There seems to only be an extremely small percentage of women without a history of family breast cancer who are actually helped by mammograms before the age of 50, so much so that U.S. Preventative Task Force wanted to change the yearly mammogram starting at 40 to 50 and every two years, instead of yearly. Of course the American Cancer Society made a big stink about this and everyone backed down.
When Angelina Jolie made that comment that her children will never have to say their mother died of cancer, I wanted to say, "Maybe not breast or ovarian cancer, but it could be another cancer." From all I have observed, and this is all casually and I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on television, there are people prone to cancer. Just like there are people prone to heart disease. In my family it's heart disease and not cancer. Diabetes is another one that some people are more prone to than others. I'm sure as more research is done with genetics, more information will be come out about this and how to genetically test people. Some geneticists have already taken out defective genes in embryos, whereby they are actually alternating the descendents of people. I think that's where cancer treatment will be headed in the future.

Steve Salerno said...

Henriette, thank you so much for contributing, and for being forthright enough to add the personal element.

Your remarks about mammography just scratch the surface, based on a lot of the material I uncovered during the research for my (still-born) book, Placebo. As you note, in recent years there's been a fair amount of public controversy over the procedure, but there's a great deal more controversy behind the scenes that never sees the light of day...again, for political/financial reasons involving the heavy hitters in Cancer Inc. One hates to be cynical when lives are at stake, but it's hard not to be, if you look into this situation with any depth.

Chillingly, there are even rare but documented cases where women have both breasts removed as a prophylactic measure, as did Ms. Jolie, and later die of metastatic breast cancer that showed up in the brain. So it is unlikely, but still possible, that Ms. Jolie may be wrong in her assertion of what her children will never have to say.

Despite all the PR, there is still so much we don't know about this disease.

Henriette said...

It's pretty bad when your own doctor admits she's not going to get a mammogram until she's 50, but is pushing one on you. Of course doctors are pretty bad with their own health, so maybe that's not a great indication of information. This is especially true with women's health and don't let me get started about the high c-section rates in the United States.

Yes, I have read about women who have had "preventive surgeries" to have cancer in other parts of their bodies surface. There are only so many body parts one can remove to prevent cancer. Also, there is bone cancer to think about.

I'm pretty sure a lot of these charities have a a big stake in all this too.

Steve Salerno said...

Henriette, yes, google Susan G. Komen. Lots of questions there. Thanks again for weighing in. And stay healthy!

Anonymous said...

These blogs do a disservice to the tens of thousands of dedicated professionals working diligently to help people beat this dreaded disease. With attitudes like the ones you express here, why would they even get up and go to work in the morning?

You should be ashamed.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I'm not sure I even comprehend your point about their getting up and going to work in the morning, but I am not ashamed about shining light on hype masquerading as hope. Yes there are a lot of dedicated professionals involved in the war on cancer, but the hucksters of Cancer Inc. are the ones who should be ashamed.