Tag: cancer

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

Monday, 4 February, 2019

Today is World Cancer Day. A good day, then, to delve into The Emperor of All Maladies, the great “biography” of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Snippets:

“That this seemingly simple mechanism — cell growth without barriers — can lie at the heart of this grotesque and multifaceted illness is a testament to the unfathomable power of cell growth. Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair — to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover, and to repair — to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells can grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.”

The Emperor of All Maladies

“It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively — at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.”


Scopus

Friday, 11 January, 2019

Scopus is the abstract and citation database operated by Elsevier. It features 36,377 titles from 11,678 publishers, of which 34,346 are peer-reviewed journals in the life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences and health sciences. Cancer, clearly, is big news.

Scopus


How “checkpoint therapy” changes cancer treatment

Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on cancer therapy “by the inhibition of negative immune regulation.” Their discoveries mark a milestone in our understanding of cancer because they reveal that the immune system can be recruited to fight malignant tumours.

Cancer is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. It kills millions every year and casts a huge shadow over the lives of their families and friends. But relief is on the horizon. By stimulating our immune system to attack tumour cells, Allison and Honjo have established an entirely new therapy principle.

Allison studied a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system and realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby freeing immune cells to attack tumours. He has developed this concept into a new approach for treating victims. Meanwhile, Honjo discovered a protein in immune cells and demonstrated that it also operates as a brake. Therapies based on his discovery have proved impressively effective. The new “checkpoint therapy” based on work of Allison and Honjo promises to change fundamentally the way cancer is managed.

Here, James P. Allison from Alice, Texas, cancer scientist and part-time harmonica player with Willie Nelson’s touring group, the Family, delivers his Nobel Lecture at the Aula Medica, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.


Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well


Kavanagh poem: the cancer ward

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. Yesterday, we had a joke by Swift; today, we have a poem by Kavanagh and it is read here by the great man himself.

Background: In March 1955, Kavanagh underwent surgery for lung cancer at the Rialto Hospital in Dublin. As the weather improved, he spent much of his time convalescing on the banks of the Grand Canal and composing verse.

The Hospital

A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins — an art lover’s woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.

This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)


Fortitude in a time of suffering and Twitter

Friday, 7 July, 2017 0 Comments

Our thoughts go out today to our favourite Benedictine nun, Sister Catherine Wybourne, the Prioress of Howton Grove Priory in Herefordshire. In her ongoing battle with cancer, she has shown grace, dignity, wit and humanity. Here’s an example of her thinking and writing that offers an insight all cancer suffers will appreciate:

“Anyone with small children or a debilitating illness such as cancer will understand when I say there is a kind of tiredness so complete that any effort seems impossible. One wakes tired; one goes to bed tired; and in between times one just is tired. In my own case, I have more or less given up pretending it can ever be otherwise. I have even stopped snarling when people tell me to rest! Because, of course, the reason one is tired is that one cannot rest or rest itself is no longer restful. I refuse, however, to allow this state of apparently perpetual tiredness to be entirely negative. I bumble along quite happily until I simply flop — a sudden loss of energy, an overwhelming desire to close my eyes for a few minutes, you know what I mean. One doesn’t have to have children or be ill to know such moments, but they are probably more frequent if one does/is. At such times one can moan and groan a little, lament what one can’t do, or one can learn — painfully slowly in my case — that they are a moment of grace, to be treasured rather than railed against.

When one is very tired, life becomes much simpler. There is no need to pretend, no need to argue, no need to worry about what others think. What one cannot do, one cannot do — and that’s an end of the matter. One cannot plan ahead and one’s memory of the past is defective, so one is forced to live in the present moment. Jean de Caussade wrote beautifully of the sacrament of the present moment, but I must admit that until I became ill myself, I had never really appreciated the richness of meaning behind the phrase.”

No day here is complete with a tweet from @Digitalnun. Each one is a gem. The juxtaposition of faith and charity, the local and the global, is unique:

#Praying for all tweeps on the feast of St Irenaeus, esp all who love scripture, & for those battling the latest global ransomware attack.

Praying for all tweeps, esp those killed/injured outside #FinsburyParkMosque last night, and those involved in #Brexit negotiations. #prayer

Praying for all tweeps, esp those affected by the floods in Uruguay, and those who are moving house. #prayer

The Digital Nun


Stand up!

Monday, 20 April, 2015 0 Comments

The haptic sensor in the Apple Watch sends pulses to remind the owner to stand up every hour, along with a text message. “You’ve been sitting for a while. Take a minute to stand up,” a sample text reads.

“If I sit for too long, it will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up and move, because a lot of doctors think sitting is the new cancer,” says Tim Cook, the Apple CEO. Cancer is a disease; sitting is a behaviour, but the point is taken. So, stand up today and take a walk. The London-based Art&Graft design studio shows how it’s done.


Coffee: Is there anything it can’t do?

Friday, 28 March, 2014 0 Comments

Note: CVD stands for Cardiovascular Disease. “Moderate coffee consumption was inversely significantly associated with CVD risk, with the lowest CVD risk at 3 to 5 cups per day, and heavy coffee consumption was not associated with elevated CVD risk.” That’s the conclusion of a paper titled “Long-Term Coffee Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease,” which appears in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

And there’s more good news in the specialist publications. Take the current issue of Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, for example. It contains a letter by R. Cardin, M. Piciocchi and F. Farinati on the matter of “coffee and chronic liver damage.” Conclusion? “In summary, coffee appears to be protective in liver damage progression, irrespective of the aetiology. Its use should be recommended and the mechanisms and compounds involved further investigated.”

espresso This comes on the heels of an article in the New Scientist by Simon Malkin titled “Drink two espressos to enhance long-term memory.” And that ties in neatly with the following: “In a 2012 experiment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, mice were briefly starved of oxygen, causing them to lose the ability to form memories. Half of the mice received a dose of caffeine that was the equivalent of several cups of coffee. After they were reoxygenated, the caffeinated mice regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than the uncaffeinated.”

That’s from “This Is Your Brain on Coffee” by Gretchen Reynolds, which appeared last June in the New York Times. Snippet: “In one large-scale epidemiological study from last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study.”

Is there anything it can’t do?


The Daily Mail does not cause or prevent cancer

Thursday, 9 January, 2014 0 Comments

Cabbage prevents cancer, but cakes cause cancer. And are you aware that vitamins both cause and prevent cancer? Well, that’s what the Daily Mail says, and Paul Battley has now taken on the task of trying to make sense of the paper’s unending effort to classify cancer-causing/preventing stuff with Kill or cure? It was Ben Goldacre who inspired him to undertake this vital public service when he informed us seven years ago that, “The Daily Mail, as you know, is engaged in a philosophical project of mythic proportions: for many years now it has diligently been sifting through all the inanimate objects in the world, soberly dividing them into the ones which either cause — or cure — cancer.”

Kill or sure?

With tongue in cheek, Battley says that, “In order to make sense of this vast resource of clinical information, I’ve scraped the Daily Mail website for articles mentioning cancer.” The results are, er, enlightening. As we can see, many things cause cancer and many others prevent it. In some cases, they do both. Well, according to the Daily Mail.

Daily Mail cancer


Why four doses of ipilimumab costs more than $100,000

Friday, 3 January, 2014 0 Comments

“Like all wars, the one against cancer is going to cost a lot of money, one way or another,” declares The Economist in its current issue in an article about a new campaign against cancer that’s being mounted by researchers and drug companies. Among the therapies examined in “Getting close and personal” is ipilimumab, a drug to treat melanoma that was launched in 2011 by Bristol-Myers Squibb and branded as Yervoy. This is a so-called “checkpoint inhibitor”, which allows immune-system cells called T-lymphocytes to attack cancer cells. Along with fighting melanoma, ipilimumab may also hinder lung cancer and prostate cancer. The stumbling block is the expense for the patient, especially in the US, where four doses of ipilimumab costs more than $100,000.

Why $25,000 a shot? Because bringing a new drug to market in America typically costs upwards of $100 million and can take as many as 15 years of research, testing and regulatory review. The drug companies, understandably, will want to recoup their investment after such a lengthy, pricey process. However, there’s hope on the horizon in the form of “adaptive trial design”, which looks at patients’ reactions to a drug early in a clinical trial to modify the way the rest of the trial is handled. The goal, according to The Wall Street Journal, is to more quickly identify those drugs that are working and those that aren’t. “Researchers Aim to Speed Cures to Patients” admits that the process is tedious but not without some glimmers of hope:

“In a recent hopeful sign, adaptive trial design enabled two experimental breast-cancer drugs to deliver promising results in a clinical trial after just six months of testing, far shorter than the typical length of a clinical trial. Researchers assessed the results while the trial was in process and found that cancer had been eradicated in more than half of one group of patients, a particularly favorable outcome. The breast cancer trial, known as I-Spy 2, is testing up to 12 experimental drugs.”

Faster, please.


When happiness is a warm Smith & Wesson

Wednesday, 11 December, 2013 0 Comments

Earlier this year, the German writer Wolfgang Herrndorf asked his friends if they knew someone who knew someone who could get him a revolver. He wasn’t planning to rob a bank or commit a crime of passion. Rather, he intended to fight cancer — his way. Before long, he was the owner of an unregistered .357 Smith & Wesson and he found it to be a thing of considerable beauty. “It possessed such a comprehensively calming effect that it’s unclear to me why the health insurance provider didn’t pay for it,” he wrote in his diary. On 26 August, he left his apartment in Berlin, strolled along the bank of the Hohenzollernkanal, found a seat, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 48.

Most modern German writing is unreadable. There’s no shortage of material, but it seems that the writers are more interested in whingeing about the “Kapitalismus” that has given them such an enviable standard of living, or they’re occupied with absurdities such as the Occupy movement, or they’re fomenting hatred of Amazon and Google and generally acting the Luddite when it comes to technological progress. All this is preferable to the hard work of writing. The result is an endless stream of turgid polemical tracts misleadingly labelled as novels and memoirs. Wolfgang Herrndorf was the honourable exception to this rule.

His novel Tschick (English: Why We Took the Car) was published in mid-2010 and a year later Sand appeared. The two represented the most exciting and stylish German fiction of recent times. Tschick was published in 27 countries and one million copies were sold in Herrndorf’s homeland. Along with writing novels, Herrndorf posted regularly at his blog Arbeit und Struktur and it was there that the wider world learned of his battle with cancer. After three operations and bouts of radiation treatment and chemotherapy he decided that he’d had enough of modern medicine and requested the revolver. The book of his blog is now destined to be a posthumous bestseller.

Smith & Wesson