Monday, January 5, 2015


(Photo from the researchers: C.Tomasetti, B.Vogelstein; Illustrator: Elizabeth Cook. Source: Johns Hopkins)

At our age, that is, 60s and 70s, we probably know of at least two or more people who have lost their battle against cancer. Everyone fears the big "C". The good news is many types of cancer are no longer terminal if diagnosed and treated early. Still, no one wants to hear a cancer prognosis from their doctor. The mere mention of the word is enough to invoke strong emotions of disbelief and despair in the patient.

I lost one of my aunts to lung cancer a while back. She never smoked in her entire life, but years of living with a chain smoker and inhaling secondary smoke probably contributed to her cancer. Her husband my uncle lived a longer life than she did. The irony of it.

That's a whole lot of smoke being exhaled. Imagine the damage that can do to our lungs over the years. 

We all know people who practise healthy living, meditate daily and faithfully go for regular medical check-ups. Yet they end up with cancer. On the other hand, there are those who break all the rules of clean, healthy living, and still live to a ripe old age, virtually disease-free, and with no major health problems.

Doesn't make sense, does it? It begs the questions - who gets cancer, who doesn't, and who recovers and who doesn't? Does God have a say in this? Or is it karma at work?

Perhaps the answer lies in the latest findings of a research study carried out by Dr B.Vogelstein and C.Tomasetti and published in Science on 1 January 2015.

The researchers: (left) Dr. Bert Vogelstein is professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; (right) Cristian Tomasetti is a biomathematician and assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“All cancers are caused by a combination of bad luck, the environment and heredity, and we’ve created a model that may help quantify how much of these three factors contribute to cancer development,” says Dr Vogelstein. (Click HERE to read about the methodology used.)

Bad luck? Hardly a scientific explanation, is it? A convenient answer, but not good enough to satisfy those who ask "Why me?"

According to the researchers, it is possible to mathematically quantify one's cancer risk by plotting the number of times a stem cell divides. The higher the number of divisons, the more likely the cells will mutate into cancer cells. However, they weren't able to include some major forms of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer, due to a lack of reliable research on the rate of stem cell division in those areas.

Pity, because I have lost more friends and relatives from these two cancers than from other types of cancer.

Sabah snake grass (clinacanthus nutans) - a cure
for cancer? Doctors have warned against taking it. 
While still on the subject of cancer, I owe an explanation to the many well-meaning people who forward to me articles and videos about the latest cures for cancer. They wonder why I do not post the information on SeniorsAloud blog or facebook page to share with others.

I sincerely thank them for their thoughtful gesture, but conventional wisdom tells me since I have no medical background, I am in no position to support any claims of a cancer cure.

What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. I certainly do not want to be guilty of causing anyone to suffer complications arising from my sharing of a particular so-called cancer cure. And they are many such dubious cures on the Internet.

One example is the above. Would I want to share information about this herb that carries a '98%' cure claim? How much do I personally know about the efficacy of this herb? What if someone took the herb and suffered adverse side effects? Would I be held responsible to some extent? Yet articles about miracle cancer cures are popping up everywhere on Facebook.

The point to make is this. Let's do the research before sharing or recommending anything that claims to be good for our health, especially health products and supplements that carry a hefty price tag.

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