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All Cancers Are Treatable

When caught early, all cancers are treatable. The trouble is that many patients are in avoidance or denial, which loses them precious treatment time. By Dr Lim Hwee Yong, Medical Oncologist

cancers are treatable

Before the turn of the millennium, there were very few cancer treatment drugs available for solid tumours. Thanks to intensive research and development, there are now literally hundreds, with side-effects reduced significantly. Positive news abounds for cancer patients with tens of thousands of publications every year on new perspectives and new techniques to treat cancers. With deeper understanding about the nature and composition of cancer cells and cell behaviour, treatment options previously unimaginable are now available.

Imagine, for instance, a medicine that prevents blood vessels from supplying blood to a tumour. Or microwave being used to burn away tumours.Or a therapy that uses antigens from a patient’s tumour to strengthen immune cells which go on to fight the cancer cells. Or a targeted molecular “bomb” enclosed in a nano-carrier that radiates a 4mm area to “nuke” the cancerous tumour, killing it and keeping the cancer cells from damaging healthy cells. Robotic and keyhole surgery have also resulted in better outcomes with less invasive surgical treatment.

This is good news in the face of the hard truth that the possibility of cancer resides in every one of us. Some estimated 1,000 to 100,000 cellular DNA damages take place in the body each day. Cancer hits when one of those cells mutates into cells that grow unimpeded, at the expense of the normal function of other healthy cells. This can occur as a result of factors such as exposure to chemicals, radiation, lifestyle, diet or genetic predisposition, impaired immunity, viral or bacterial infections and other yet to be known factors.

That one cell becomes a renegade cancerous cell. Our immune system which can usually take care of aberrant non-functional cells is unable to destroy it. This results in the ill patient. Notably, some cancers can take many years, even decades to develop.

The statistics are not encouraging. Most reports point to an approximate risk of one in three men and women contracting cancer in their life-time. Between 2008 and 2012, there were some 8,500 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed, and almost 9,000 of colon cancer. The most common cancer overall is colon cancer, while for women, breast cancer is the most prevalent. When caught early, cancers can be highly curable. For patients diagnosed at Stage 1 of the most common cancers, the cure rate can be more than 90%.

But too many patients delay or avoid treatment, or go into denial, losing precious time during which their chances drop quickly.

Even in cases of advanced stage cancer, the disease can still be highly treatable. For example, a 60 year old male patient presented with Stage IV lymphoma. By the time he sought medical help, the cancer had spread from the lymph nodes into the rest of his body and his bone marrow. Within one treatment, the fluid in his lungs and abdomen resolved and he improved with higher energy levels and much improved appetite. Not long after, he was back to his gardening hobby.

More dramatic was the case of a 50 year old woman who presented with unbearable pain. She improved rapidly with chemotherapeutic treatment and was out of bed in two weeks. The disease went into complete remission after nine weeks of treatment.

The notion that cancer is untreatable has to change. People are diagnosed with diabetes and they accept it; they get hypertension and don’t think twice. They get cancer and see it as an insurmountable life obstacle. This is no longer the case. With our latest molecular and genetic understanding of cancer and new technological innovation and bio-pharmacological engineering, patients can now benefit from effective cancer treatments while maintaining a good quality and active lifestyle. There are many instances, from a patient with colon cancer cycling 40 kilometres daily to the beautician who lived a close-to-normal working lifestyle with Stage 4 breast cancer for almost 20 years and continues to do so today.

Oncological treatment has changed enormously over the last decade and in this new era, we can now cure most early stage breast and colorectal cancers and provide effective and high quality treatment with maintenance of active lifestyle for many cancer patients.


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