Big news in cancer research

From October, 2010

At our house, we are excited by a breakthrough in cancer detection.  Not sure how soon it will filter down into “accepted medical practice” for cancer detection/treatment – but – given the incredibly accurate (100%) results, maybe it will move fast enough to help some of us fighting cancer now.

Tumors need to attract/create new blood vessels in order to grow, a process called “angiogenesis“.  One area of research in cancer treatment has been to inhibit this process, some new cancer drugs like Genetech’s Avastin, which I mentioned in a previous post, work on this principle.  We have been attempting as much as possible to eat a diet high in angiogenesis inhibitors.  New information coming out of a joint project between the Mount Sinai Medical School and INSERM in France, this breakthrough is just now hitting the news.  One of my Google searches only listed 6 articles, this one from US News and World Report, is a less-technical version, MedPage Today in its review of the article goes into more detail.  The official version was published just yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine (you will have to subscribe to get more than a synopsis and tiny photos from the article.)

It’s pretty incredible to get the kind of results found in this study:  follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) receptors were present in 100% of the cancerous tissue samples gleaned from over 1300 patients with 11 types of cancer, including ovarian.  Among normal, non-cancerous tissue samples taken from the same organs where malignant tumors were present, none of the samples showed the receptors.  The concentration of FSH receptors in tumor tissue was much greater than that normally present in humans (in the ovaries, testes and umbilical cord) and easily identifiable as cancer-related. In addition, the hormone concentrates itself on the edges of the tumor (where blood vessel growth needs to happen) and virtually outlines the tumor.

Of course, there is much more work to be done: how to block the receptors signal, how to treat the receptors in such a way that they show up on PET/MRI/CT scans, or actually dye the edges of the tumor and make surgery so much more exact!  New procedures based on this research can possibly make other drugs/research moot …  There are many avenues of research that need to be explored, but hopefully, these results will be repeatable and lead to better detection – and treatment – in my lifetime.


Blood counts: My latest blood counts are so encouraging: The CA 125 tumor marker continued to drop, from 53 down to 28.   Starting at 299 at the time of my first surgery, it has gone from  299 to 89 to 53 to 28.  I’ve been floating along in the normal range for hemoglobin, white blood cells, etc. – and that has continued.  This would explain why I am not experiencing the level of fatigue many cancer patients do during treatment.   Kidney and liver function is also still in the normal range.

Pain/worry: That said, I have to confess to a bit of worry…  The last two months, in the third weeks after chemo, I start worrying about the kind of pains that week.   Expecting side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue (none of which I’ve had), I wasn’t prepared for plain ole’ pain.  I wasn’t expecting the achiness and low back ache that felt like really bad menstrual cramps.  When that faded and I felt a pulling sensation that seemed attached to my bladder, I was worried that the cancer was growing.  Perhaps I was more worried, knowing this is an aggressive, fast-growing cancer and having to postpone the next chemo in anticipation of surgery.  Instead of going three weeks between chemo treatments, you have to wait 28 days before having surgery after a treatment.  Last month, anticipating surgery (which was postponed another month) , I had a longer gap than normal.  So of course, I imagined the cancer starting to grow again…  The doctor reassured me the pains were not because it was growing, but more likely because it was dying – and shrinking/pulling away – just like we wanted it to.

This month, again in anticipation of surgery, I’m looking at 28 days without chemo.  I’m fine the first couple of weeks.  I sail along great the first couple of days, then get a little constipated, followed by the achiness/backache.  Then, I had some days so great, I really went all out for exercise: ran a mile one day, rode 20 miles on the tandem the next.

From October, 2010

Followed by the worst pain I’ve had since immediately post-op.  I couldn’t believe it was the exercise, especially when the “muscle” pain subsided but it felt like there was a baked potato-shaped mass under my right rib cage.  Finally, on Wed., I went to the doctor (apologizing for being a hypochondriac) for peace of mind.  Bless his heart.  He went ahead with the blood work I would have done next week pre-surgery and said I was still shrinking up inside.  We could have done a scan, but would not have gained much more info than the bloodwork would  show.  It could be in my bowel, so I went back to psyllium husk and trying to drink more water.

As I said to the nurse, “I’ve not been down this road before… I don’t know what to expect”. Let’s see if I can make it through a month without imagining the worst!

From October, 2010

Wednesday evening, I spoke about cancer/death/faith with the First Mennonite Church high school youth group. It was a privilege to share honestly with this group. I used a shortened version of my essay, “You might not have to die” and they followed up with a couple of discussion questions: “What is a good death? When is a good time to die? If you knew you had six months to live, what would you do?” Following the discussion/sharing time, we sang “My Life Flows On…” (I get a kick out of the photos with this recording…)

From October, 2010

Yesterday (Thursday), we drove up to Beatrice, NE to see Dave’s mom.  Six hours (total) in the car was not great, but it was good to see his sis Becky and Vera (mom).  Late afternoon, I called to see if my blood test results were back…  Great results!  Now I can stop worrying – until next month…  I still have some pain under my rib cage when I roll over onto my right side or twist too much.  However, knowing it’s not going to kill me, I went ahead and tried running again today.  One mile – no problem.  Then, I tried a few yoga stretches, twisting a bit less than last time…

Using some of what I wrote in the post on ObamaCare, I spent  several hours writing letters (emails) to politicians about health care.  I thanked President Obama, responded to Marc Segiel’s opinion in USA Today (who doesn’t seem to understand either pre-existing conditions or preventive health care) and wrote all of the Kansas candidates for US Congress.  The responses I’ve gotten back from candidates have been pretty canned – and not what I want to hear!

NPR Science Friday talking about the origins of the word “Cancer” as a name for malignant tumors and some history.

My sister is coming Sunday from Ill; surgery is scheduled for next week Friday (Oct. 29th) at 1 p.m. I appreciate your prayers for a good outcome: no visible cancer.



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One Response to Big news in cancer research

  1. Kathryn Crawford says:

    Glad to hear your blood counts are doing well, sure gives a person more encouragement. At least they are working on a cure and can go into remission, but
    Look up conquer and you’ll see what our grandaughter has. No cure for this and word is just starting to get out about this. I never heard of it as many yrs as I worked in the hosp. till she was diagnosised. Her main problem is headache/ neck pains and sometimes vertigo.

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