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Controlling Cancer

Posted 10/1/2014

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  Happy October first. This is a marker for several reasons: New Englanders generally love the fall; we are treated to spectacular crisp, blue sky days. We like apple picking and fields of pumpkins and the glorious starts at night--especially as we are acutely aware that winter is approaching. In Breast Cancer World, October has been horribly contaminated by Pink, and I am sure I will not be able to refrain from a few posts this month about this deplorable movement.

  The importance of today for this blog, however, is that it officially becomes Living with Cancer rather than Living with Breast Cancer. It likely will take a little while for the online title to change, but the reasons are related to intent and funding. With a broader vision, we are hopeful that more readers will find this useful. Welcome.

  A most appropriate beginning is to direct you to this marvelous essay from The New Yorker but BIDMC's own Jerome Groopman, MD. I suspect that many of you have read some of his books or other articles and know how wise he is, how much he has to share, and how very well he writes. This topic is the question of whether cancer can be controlled if not cured.

  Control is often the goal in cancer care. Individuals with early cancers who are "treated for cure" are rarely, if ever, told that they have been cured, but they hope for regular appointments with no evidence of disease (otherwise known as NED). People who have metastatic cancer quickly learn that stable scans are good news; that equals control. This seems, to my non-scientific brain, to be related to all I hear about a more likely achievement in cancer research will be prevention, not cure. The more you know, the more you are aware that cancer is incredibly complex, nimble, and seems to always be one step ahead of our knowledge.

  Here is the introduction to this excellent essay and then a link to read more:

The Transformation
Is it possible to control cancer without killing it?


An experimental new drug can make some leukemic cells mature into healthier ones. 

For almost thirty years, William Kuhens worked on Staten Island as a basketball referee for the Catholic Youth Organization and other amateur leagues. At seventy, he was physically fit, taking part in twenty games a month. But in July of 2013 he began to lose weight and feel exhausted; his wife told him he looked pale. He saw his doctor, and tests revealed that his blood contained below-normal numbers of platelets and red and white blood cells; these are critical for, respectively, preventing bleeding, supplying oxygen, and combatting infection. Kuhens was sent to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in Manhattan, to meet with Eytan Stein, an expert in blood disorders. Stein found that as much as fifteen per cent of Kuhens’s bone marrow was made up of primitive, cancerous blood cells. “Mr. Kuhens was on the cusp of leukemia,” Stein told me recently. “It seemed that his disease was rapidly advancing.”


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  • Alice said:
    10/1/2014 6:34 PM

    I have to write about Breast Cancer Awareness Month even though today's entry is on a different topic. I am cancer-free, was diagnosed end of 2012, and being a cancer survivor is new and raw. My main problem with this month is that it is all about celebration and survivorship and pink happiness - all of that is great, but what gets lost is how miserable and terrifying and horrible cancer and cancer treatment are. I feel miserable today. I don't feel pink or happy. I don't want cancer to be sugar-coated. Having a good cry and on with my day. Thank you, Hester, for your words.