Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009 - A Scary Thought for Halloween

Here’s a scary thought for Halloween: We’ve all got cancer.

Read this creepy little item, from an October 26th New York Times article:

“Cancer cells and precancerous cells are so common that nearly everyone by middle age or old age is riddled with them, said Thea Tlsty, a professor of pathology at the University of California, San Francisco. That was discovered in autopsy studies of people who died of other causes, with no idea that they had cancer cells or precancerous cells. They did not have large tumors or symptoms of cancer. ‘The really interesting question,’ Dr. Tlsty said, ‘is not so much why do we get cancer as why don’t we get cancer?’”

A thought along these same lines is this one, that I read in a National Geographic article some time ago, and that’s bugged me ever since (in more ways than one). Our bodies are also riddled with microscopic animal hitchhikers: lice, dust mites and the like.

They feed off things like our discarded skin cells. They’re so tiny, we’re unaware of their presence. They cause us no trouble we’re aware of. But they’re here. Our bodies are their home.

Not only that, our digestive systems mightily depend upon bacteria, who make their home in the human gut. Millions upon millions of these microorganisms come into life, grow to maturity and die, sustained by the same foods that sustain us. Many of these bacteria actually help us, because they scarf down food substances we can’t digest, and excrete them in forms that we can. (Mmm, mmm, good!) One of the reasons doctors are so wary of over-prescribing antibiotics these days is that these nuclear weapons of the subatomic world indiscriminately blast out all kinds of bacteria, the beneficial as well as the harmful. Here’s a picture of lactobacillus acidophilus, which is one of the good guys:

Our awareness of our own bodies is pretty much limited to the macro level, the things our own senses can take in. When doctors take on a foe like cancer, they have to contend on the microscopic level. Cancer cells have to number in the millions before they even show up on most tests and scans. To form themselves into an actual tumor, something like an enlarged lymph node that can be felt or seen without special techniques or equipment, there have to be a great many more of them than that.

On Halloween, or any other time, it’s not so much the things that go bump in the night we ought to be scared of. It’s the things that silently swish by, submerged within the salty, microscopic sea in which our cells swim, that can cause lasting harm.

There’s some good news arising out of that infinitesimally tiny perspective, though. According to the same Times article, some cancer researchers are changing the way they look at the disease. Once upon a time, they viewed cancer’s progress as inexorably linear: once it appears anywhere, it can only grow larger. The only questions for the doctors, following that way of thinking, are “How fast?” “In what direction?” and “How can we stop it?”

Now, it turns out, a lot of cancers don’t grow much at all. Some even grow for a time, then reverse course and disappear into oblivion. Summarizing the views of Dr. Barnett Kramer of the National Institutes of Health, the Times article goes on to explain:

“The image was ‘an arrow that moved in one direction.’ But now, he added, it is becoming increasingly clear that cancers require more than mutations to progress. They need the cooperation of surrounding cells and even, he said, ‘the whole organism, the person,’ whose immune system or hormone levels, for example, can squelch or fuel a tumor. Cancer, Dr. Kramer said, is a dynamic process.”

There are many ways in which my cancer is like that. The indolent lymphoma I have is just hanging around for now, doing not much of anything. We’re watching it, and we’re waiting.

Hope we wait a long time.

Now, here's a little Halloween fun:


Julie Orvis Marcinkiewicz said...

"Why don't we get cancer?" That is provocative question. Thinking about all the various microscopic things in our bodies, it is wonder. It seems the question is what triggers our system to allow the bad stuff to go haywire.

thanks for video. also the transformer robot you put on facebook was well recieved by some of my friends. that was great!

Lap Band surgery said...
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Sagar said...

Amongst young women, a lump that moves may be an indication of fibrocystic breast disease, or fibrocystic condition. According to some doctors, fibrocystic breasts (benign lumps that move around) may increase the risk of Breast cancer, especially, if there is a family history. There have been no significant studies, to indicate, that there is a direct correlation between benign lumps in breasts and breast cancer

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Bryan said...

Sure cancer is deadly and scary.Be more strong maybe God will send a miracle. Prayer works too.

Sagar said...

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women and the second most common cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. While the majority of new breast cancers are diagnosed as a result of an abnormality seen on a mammogram, a lump or change in consistency of the breast tissue can also be a warning sign of the disease.
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