I wrote an article last year about Deborah James' inspirational work to raise awareness and remove the taboo around bowel cancer. It is sincerely hoped that her work will be continued and people will not be afraid to seek treatment. This year, although this article still focuses on bowel cancer, the news has the potential to be more promising to those undergoing treatment.
First and foremost, it goes without saying that cancer is a terrible disease, and the diagnosis is devastating.
Thankfully, many cancers are now treatable, with timely detection and treatment being key. The treatment for cancer will, of course, be dependent upon where the cancer is, the stage of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. For example, the main treatment for colon cancer is surgery and chemotherapy.
At the current time, a person is likely to have chemotherapy following surgery for colon cancer if they have either stage 2 cancer with features that increase the risk of it recurring or stage 3 cancer. This is because, to date, it has not been possible to ascertain whether microscopic cancer cells remain (which could cause the cancer to return).
The safest option is therefore for chemotherapy to be administered to minimise the risk of further symptoms / diagnosis. This means that whilst chemotherapy is not always required it is (quite understandably) being used as a safety net to give a patient the best chance of recovery.
Whilst chemotherapy can treat cancer cells almost anywhere in the body that are in the process of multiplying it can also cause damage to body tissue and carries with it extremely unpleasant side effects.
A trial is currently underway to determine whether blood tests can be used to show whether a cancer has been treated by surgery alone and therefore whether chemotherapy can be avoided. The trial involves a blood test which can determine if there are any residual microscopic cancer cells remaining following surgery (these cells would not be visible on a scan).
The BBC article sets out the case of Ben Cooke whose blood test evidenced that he was clear of cancer. He was therefore able to take an oral chemotherapy tablet rather than having the chemotherapy intravenously which for him, had minimal side effects.
Not only can the blood test be used to determine whether chemotherapy is required, it also has the potential for diagnosis of cancer recurrence to be made earlier than it can be presently using the current methods of scanning.
The trials are in the extremely early stages and it goes without saying that a patient’s safety is of the utmost importance and the efficacy of this method remains to be seen. However, it is very positive that this is being investigated and I look forward, as I am sure many of you will, to reviewing the progress and indeed whether this will be effective for other types of cancer.
As I set out at the beginning, the diagnosis of any cancer is devastating and whilst any progress on treatment and (potentially detection) is extremely welcome news, this does not detract from the emotional and physical implications of a diagnosis. It is extremely important that cancer is caught early and treated appropriately.
Unfortunately, I often hear of cancers that are missed and not treated effectively which can have disastrous consequences.
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