This figure shows the heterogeneity of cancer ...

Image via Wikipedia


So, what do you think a cure means to you?  It probably means something like…not having cancer for the rest of your life after a particular treatment…or something like that?  Is that right?  Isn’t that what a patient who has cancer might think if he/she was talking about a cure?  Well, unfortunately this is not the case in medical terms and what scientific publications mean when they talk about cure.  When clinical folks talk about cures…they are referring to the ability of a certain treatment to extend the life of a patient without any symptoms of the disease for five years.  Not for life!  Thus, progression free survival for five years defines a cure.  Why do I bring this up?  It is because a patient should know this when they talk to an oncolgist or read scientific literature and not assume that a cure means for life.  Actually, what we in the medical community should do is replace the word ‘cure’ with something else.  We should not use that term if we don’t mean what people on the street mean.  I think many in the media are also not aware and thus, they report on cure for this and that without really being accurate in any way.  So, please be careful about using the word cure…please don’t allow expectations to be too great in terms of cures for most cancers.  We are working on it but we are not there yet! 

cancer chemoptherapy

...of course, this was prior to the actual zap...

Image via Wikipedia


So, let’s talk about cancer therapy for a moment.  The major forms of therapy include Surgery, Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy and targeted therapy.  Of course, surgery will be performed if it can be to remove the cancer (e.g. the tumor).  If the cancer is more advanced, than surgery alone will rarely help so one adds radiation to help with the more advanced forms of therapy.  May times radiation may not work so many tumors do respond to chemotherapy (drugs used to kill cancer cells) treatment.  The last form is more recent and is under intense research, but is used when advanced information is known about the biology or molecular biology of the tumor…it is a more specific and specialized form of therapy that can improve the life of some cancer patients.  The whole goal of cancer treatment is to remove or kill off the tumor if possible and if not help the patient to live as long as possible…to extend their life and to make life less painful if possible.  Please do ask me more questions and do come and visit my web page often! 

Dr Charles 

Breast Cancer….very active areas of research

Breast cancer is no laughing matter…that’s for sure nor are other cancers.  Today I had a teaching session with my medical students here and our team session was on breast cancer with a few oncologists.  It was a very interesting session and we all learned a lot. It is amazing how collaborative the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of a patient with cancer is…a large multi disciplinary team even here in Singapore where medical care is done somewhat on the cheap.  It is comforting to know that a lot of basic science and clinical science research is currently being done…including the incorporation of PARP inhibitors in the treatment regimen of patients who have BRACA-1 mutations.  Interesting indeed…do ask me questions if you have any on the subject…I am no expert but i do have some basic understanding!

cheer Dr. C

Diagnosed with cancer

Wow, what a surprise when I spoke to my long-lost friend on facebook….she told me her father had just passed away from cancer.  I was shocked, surprised and felt bad, especially since she told me yesterday which was father’s day.  As she is in her 20’s her father was still young and had potentially many years left to be a father for his kids and a husband for his wife.  Anyhow, he died of NPC a cancer found in the nasal passages.  It is very common in chinese men and fairly common in chinese women also.  To make a long story short, it not treated immediately it can become hard to remove and it can metastasize (move to another location).  This is what happened to my friend’s father, the cancer had moved to his liver and that was impossible to remove.  Even though he had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy it was not possible to get rid of his cancer.  So, he died.  And that last fact is why cancer research must go on and why cancer educations must go on.  And why me must learn more and more about cancer prevention.  That’s it for now but please do leave me some comments and or questions…I don’t think I am the only one who cares about this issue!

Dr. C

is Cancer strange?

Why is cance so strange and mysterious?  In fact, HIV (AIDS) is quite devastating and more people are dying of diseases associated with poor water quality and insect borne diseases such as malaria.  We have not eradicated HIV, many parasitic diseases and most mosquito borne diseases.  So, why do we find Cancer so strange and struggle to understand why we have not cured cancer?  I am not sure.  Cancer like any disease is complex and will take many years and tons of money (billions if not trillions) to solve completely if ever.  Wait a minnute…did he just say ‘if ever’?’ Yes, that is what I said.  I know people may find this hard to believe as they think human can solve any problems, but understanding cancer completely like many other natural things in life relies on scientists knowing the fundamentals of human biology, the body, and other areas of science.  And guess what…we still don’t.  Nope, we are still learning about it all.  I am not sure if we will ever fully understand ever signal in a cell etc.  Until we do Cancer and other diseases will continue to be a mystery to us.  That does not mean we are not making great strides and saving people every day.  But, complete understanding is a long way away!  Sorry guys! 

Dr. C

Knowledge really is power

You know, knowledge really is power. That is not to say that if yuo know more about cancer that you will have the smarts to chase cancer away but it can do several things. Tens of thousands of scientists and an equal number of clinical doctors are trying to do just that…chase cancer away. The knowledge that first start with the chemists, and biologists and then makes it to the microbiologists and cancer researchers and others deos lead to some very effective treatments and more importantly getting to understand what we are dealing with. We now so somuch more about the fundamentals of cancer that we did not know 10 years ago. We know things to avoid to reduce our chances, we now know which cancers can be treated by which drugs or by which priorities. We even know for many cancers, what types of people will fare worse than others (gender, race, age, etc.). For non medical folks, we can also defend ourselves somewhat with knowledge. Perhaps the biggest way is to try and understand cancer so that we know what to ignore that is out there ‘pretending’ to be anti cancer like. Once we understand cancer a little bit better we wont be so afraid of asking some serious questions to the people selling us all of these cancer preventative products. We can talk with our doctors a little bit more comfortably and so on and so forth. So get out there…arm yourself with knowledge and start asking questions…there are specialist hidden everywhere…I am one of them. So, come visit my webpage for more info!

Before you buy a car you must know how to drive

It really amazes me how much misinformation I hear constantly about cancer.  But, when I think about it, if I was not a cancer immunologist or cancer researcher myself, I too would not have much of an idea about cancer.  So, it is even stranger how I realize that companies are busy marketing products to the consumer based on very little knowledge of the underlying principles of cancer.  So, the marketing materials about cancer a highly biased, share only the information about cancer that supports their product (e.g maybe Ph or oxygen radicals or a host of other things) but ignore 1000 other important things that are important in cancer development.  So, people are buying car (cancer products) without knowing how to drive.  This has got to stop.  Fortunately, most of the products out there are not too harmful (rare mushrooms only found in japan, etc.) but can be quite costly.  However an over reliance on these pseudo anti cancer products can be providing false hope to people who may eventually end up getting cancer despite the products they are taking.  I hope over the next few months I can start introducing topics that will help lead to a better understanding of cancer!