Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gut Microbes & Colon Cancer

Cancer News

heal [before 12c; vb; ME helen, fr. OE hælan; akin to OHG heilen to heal, OE  hal whole
—more at whole]1 a: to make sound or whole b: to restore to health.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1987


I don’t follow scientific research on cancer as I once did, since too much of what is reported is hyped for reasons of money and fame, and thus can’t be taken seriously as good honest scientific research. Beware of breathless announcements that sound too good to be true, driven by human hubris and little more. At times, however, I come across an interesting study, one that jumps out at you.

The facts: Done at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy; its lead researcher is Dr. Cynthia Sears, an infectious disease specialist at the named Institute. In a recent New York Times article (“Gut Microbes Combine to Cause Colon Cancer, Study Suggests;” February 1, 2018), Gina Kolata writes a fairly well-researched article, whose main finding is worth noting:
Their study, published in the journal Science, describes what may be a hidden cause of colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the United States. The research also adds to growing evidence that gut bacteria modify the body’s immune system in unexpected and sometimes deadly ways.
The findings suggest that certain preventive strategies may be effective in the future, like looking for the bacteria in the colons of people getting colonoscopies.
If the microbes are present, the patients might warrant more frequent screening; eventually people at high risk for colon cancer may be vaccinated against at least one of the bacterial strains.
This sounds encouraging, but we have been down this road many times; like anything related to medical advances against a complex disease like cancer, we should err on the side of caution and be cognizant of the facts. We can’t forever plead ignorance. Medical researchers have been talking about developing vaccines against cancer for years now; yet in the last few decades only two have been approved as effective (i.e., against HPV and Hepatitis B).

This tells me that vaccines are not easy to make. We shall see what we shall see. We would like to see the end of colon cancer, of cancer in general. So, who knows if this will happen now or in ten years? Or in a 100 years? We have more knowledge, but it has not necessary led to cures; cancer is not a simple disease. The best and most sincere medical scientists try their best, putting their knowledge and understanding to good use to try to outsmart cancer.

Even so, I am reminded of this, speaking from personal experience: you are treated for cancer, which is not the same as being cured or healed (restored to health or made whole) from cancer. Although you might be free from the disease, personal experience informs me that you can never return to your old self, which, depending on how you view things, might not be so bad. It can be good, making you focus on what is important, getting rid of the dross. Liberating.

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