Understanding More About Cancer
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
SEPTEMBER 15, 2017
Learning about cancer is a continuing education in the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. I often refer people to Siddhartha Mukherjee's incredible book, The Emperor of All Maladies. Reading it, and it reads like a novel, gives you an appreciation of the incredible challenges that cancer presents and respect for all the research progress that has happened over many years.
Dr. Mukherjee has just written an article for The New Yorker that tackles a particular piece of the puzzle. If you think about cancer cells living in a host, what factors about that environment encourage or discourage or prevent cancer's growth? If we knew the answers, we would be much further along in our efforts. For example, why does cancer sometimes recur years, even decades, after the initial diagnosis and treatment? What has happened or changed in the body to stimulate those long-dormant cells to awaken?
Here is the start and a link. This is a rather long article, but today is Friday, so make some weekend time to read this. It is well worth it.
Cancer’s Invasion Equation
We can detect tumors earlier than ever before. Can we predict whether they’re going to be dangerous?
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Over the summer of 2011, the water in Lake Michigan turned crystal clear. Shafts of angled light lit the lake bed, like searchlights from a U.F.O.; later, old sunken ships came into view from above. Pleasure was soon replaced by panic: lakes are not supposed to look like swimming pools. When biologists investigated, they found that the turbid swirls of plankton that typically grow in the lake by the million had nearly vanished—consumed gradually, they could only guess, by some ravenous organism.
The likely culprits were mollusks: the zebra mussel and its cousin the quagga mussel. The two species—Dreissena polymorpha and Dreissena bugensis—are thought to have originated in the estuarine basins of Ukraine, notably that of the Dnieper River. In the late nineteen-eighties, cargo ships, travelling from the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, had dumped their ballast water into the Great Lakes, contaminating them with foreign organisms.
At first, the mollusks seemed like relatively innocuous guests. Then things took a turn. By the mid-nineties, they were hanging from ship keels, turbines, and propellers in bulbous, tumorlike masses, encrusting docks and piers, clogging water pipes and sanitation systems, and washing ashore in such numbers that, on some beaches, you could walk on a solid bar of shells. Eventually, the water clarity began to increase, the effect at first picturesque and then eerie.
By 2012, the Dreissena population in parts of southern Lake Michigan had reached a density of ten thousand per square metre. By one estimate, there were nine hundred and fifty trillion mussels in the lake, its bottom a crackling carpet of calcium. By 2015, the density was fifteen thousand per square metre—more mussels, by weight, than all the fish in the lakes. Billions of dollars in damage had accumulated.
Ships and boats had to be decontaminated, and water-cleaning equipment dismantled and stripped. Dire warning signs were placed throughout the lake system, yet the invaders—the quaggas, ultimately, in the greatest numbers—continued to spread.