An Unwelcome Subject
Today's topic is one that we mostly try to avoid: the risk of second cancers caused by treatment for the first cancer. At the time of a cancer diagnosis, our focus is appropriately on treating it and trying to stay alive and well. Often that is just what happens. However, cancer treatments are powerful, and may have dangerous possible longterm side effects. In the days that people rarely lived for long after cancer, these worries didn't matter. Now, however, since many of us do go on to have long lives, we need to be aware of these (rare) possibilities.
There is no reason to panic about any of this. Secondary cancers are quite uncommon, but they do happen, and knowing that possibility might help us live better. During the early months and years after cancer, many of us savor life in intense ways. We live in technicolor, not in black and white. As time safely passes, it can be more difficult to sustain these feelings and we can slip back to pre-cancer complacency. I suggest that is a mistake that we should try hard to avoid. I will NEVER say that cancer is a blessing, but it can stimulate us to change our lives in positive ways. If we remember that we are mortal and that life is always on loan, we may make decisions that enrich our days and years.
First, here is a link to a marvelous essay about these issues by Steven Petrow »
And here is the beginning and then a link to a good summary from the American Cancer Society:
Second Cancers Caused by Cancer Treatment
Advances in radiation therapy and chemotherapy have increased the chances of survival for people with cancer today. People with cancer are living longer, so it's becoming more important to study the long-term effects of cancer treatment. Of all the possible late complications of cancer treatment, developing a second cancer is one of the most serious. People can have more than one cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is a very common disease, and not all second cancers are due to cancer treatment. For example, certain inherited gene changes can increase a woman's risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. Also, being exposed to certain cancer-causing substances, like tobacco smoke, can put a person at higher risk for several different cancers, such as cancers of the lung, larynx, throat, or mouth. Even though it is hard to separate out the exact cause of any one person's cancer, here we will try to focus on the risk of second cancers that may be linked to past cancer treatment.
The National Cancer Institute has sponsored several clinical trials related to the long-term effects of cancer treatment. These are helping us to better understand how cancer treatments can affect the development of second cancers.
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