Internet Cancer

So, as usual the internet doesn’t know what the fuck it’s talking about.

Just for a change, it’s cancer.

Every now and then there comes to the attention of the media a new ‘wonder drug’; something that the media (and therefore the general public) don’t really understand,  but they’re damn sure it’s better than what was previously offered, and is therefore basically the next best thing to a cure for cancer.

When my mum had cancer, it was Herceptin  – a chemotherapy that dramatically improved the life expectancy of women with a specific kind of breast cancer, but of course got misreported and misunderstand and so had patients with every other type of breast cancer believing they were being denied it (when it reality it just would have been worthless).

It helps to remember that Cancer is not a single disease; it’s many – there’s no single therapy, there’s no single treatment. Even each ‘type’ of cancer is in fact several different diseases, all often with completely different outcomes & treatment options.

That’s a big part of why we don’t have ‘a cure for cancer’: there won’t ever be a cure. There might one day be many cures.

Which brings us to Proton Beam Therapy.

There’s a young boy whose parents – to cut a long story short – want him to receive proton beam therapy for his brain tumour. The oncologists in question initially prescribed standard radiation therapy.

Proton Beam Therapy is a cutting edge form of radiotherapy with – potentially – fewer side effects. It is also spectacularly expensive.

As you might expect, the internet has jumped all over this  – why wouldn’t the doctors prescribe the best therapy? Are they just cutting corners?

But the difference between the two therapies isn’t ‘efficacy’.

I’ll reiterate: Proton Beam Therapy & Radiotherapy are equally effective at treating the brain tumour itself.

Proton Beam Therapy definitely looks EXACTLY like this

The difference between the two treatments is the side-effects – or in fact, the long-term side-effects. Proton Beam Therapy is very focused, it treats the tumour and not much of the surrounding tissue is irradiated.

In contrast, standard radiotherapy irradiates a good portion of the surrounding tissue, potentially causing damage (particularly in children). But it also lowers the opportunities for metastasis.

The patient in this case has a grade 4 tumour – one which is metastasising rapidly; I’m not an oncologist (nor a brain surgeon), but I do know from talking to them when my mum had brain tumours that focused treatments aren’t necessarily the best option, because they don’t address a tumour which has already spread.

Nor do we know this patient’s prognosis. The difference between the two treatments is in the long-term side-effects. But if he has an advanced brain tumour, and his prognosis is negative… then the long-term side effects won’t be an issue; and the treatment he’s undergoing is to maximise his quality of life as much as it is the quantity.

But, as I said – I’m not one of his doctors, and I don’t know the full details of his case.

And neither do you.

I can completely understand why his parents are searching for what they believe to be the best possible treatment, demanding cutting edge treatments & therapies (even if they’re inappropriate or no better than what they’ve already been offered). I expect them to demand impossible things, and to reach out for false hopes & believe things that they probably shouldn’t.

But everyone else needs to back the fuck off. Or at least take the time to learn about the treatments available before wading in.

There are typically very good reasons why a patient isn’t offered the newest cancer treatment. Demonising his doctors for trying to do their job really isn’t helping anyone.

(and while I’m on the subject, you can all shut up about cannabis, it is not a cure for cancer. It is good for mitigating the side-effects of cancer treatments, though (check with your oncologist, don’t break any laws etc.))

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