Cancer is curable
As we go along on our journey of understanding cancer,As we go along on our journey of understanding cancer,
As we know, cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that becomes autonomous. If we diagnose cancers in early stages, when the total number of cells is small enough to be eliminated completely from the body, we can overcome this disease. The recent invention in technology, of hybrid PET-CT (positron-emission tomography and computerized tomography) can detect cancers as small as 5 mm anywhere in the body except brain, stomach and prostate gland. PET-study is based on the glucose metabolism of a cell and since cancer cells grow they take up the fluorinated glucose which remains trapped in them and can be detected through scans. However, similar pattern occurs with infections and inflammations too and a PET may not be hundred percent correct in picking up cancers, hence the test should be read only with a confirmed biopsy for cancer, for proper interpretation.
Few cancers that are curable are:
- Blood cancers – acute lymphatic leukemia & chronic lymphatic leukemia with >80% chances of leading a healthy normal life
- Lymphomas- both Hodgkin’s & non-Hodgkin’s
- Cancer of larynx or voice box
- Skin cancer
- Cervix cancer
- Cancer of uterus
- Rectum and anal canal cancer
- Early lung cancer
- Cancer of the Naso-pharynx
- Kidney cancer
Patients need lifestyle modifications besides treatment, especially in cases of tobacco induced cancers of larynx and lungs.
Earlier it was believed that kidney cancers, adenoid cystic carcinomas, liver cancers, lung cancers and sarcomas are not sensitive to radiation, hence patients were denied access to it. Developments in the last decade and half have shown that stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) with high dose of radiation can rid the body of tumors. Stereotactic radiation can be delivered either with a very stringent quality control on a linear accelerator or with a dedicated machine like Cyberknife.
Since I have been trained in the conventional art and science of radiotherapy, I was an atheist as far as SBRT was concerned till 2008, until I visited one of the earliest proponents of Cyberknife treatment at the University of Pittsburgh. He had treated over 800 patients since 2003, with remarkable results and I became a believer. Although I had access to deep inspiratory breath hold techniques for treating cancers in moving organs like lungs and liver, I was sitting on the fence earlier. On my return from Pittsburg, I met a patient in my clinic with a sarcoma deposit in his lung. He had undergone surgery for this deposit at a reputed institute with a recurrence within 6 months; he was advised complete removal of the lung!!
He was looking for an alternative that could get the cancer out without removal of the lung. His concerns were what if the cancer relapsed in other parts of the body? We did 2-3 consultations and after explaining to him the principles of this new method of controlling resistant cancers with SBRT, we treated him in 2008. It has been over six years since then and the sarcoma has not relapsed anywhere in his system!
I am grateful to this patient for letting us see the miracle of a new treatment, while gifting him the solace of quality life over the last few years.
Radiation delivered through this technique is called ‘radiosurgery’ and Cyberknife is a dedicated robotic machine for it, requiring no anesthesia. It’s offered as an outpatient treatment and can be completed within less than two weeks, giving hope to cancer patients and assurance that cancer is curable.