Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Complete Idiots Guide to Cancer

I did a web search to see if anyone had written a book called, “The Complete Idiots Guide to Cancer.” I didn’t find one. The closest match I found was a book titled, “The Complete Idiots Guide to Living with Breast Cancer.” One of the purposes of this blog is the educate people about cancer. I’ll scratch the surface on two topics today: Cancer cells and chemo-brain.

Cancer Cells. This is pretty basic stuff, but I found it interesting. A tumor is a build up of cells. There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. A benign tumor is an abnormal growth of normal cells. This can cause health problems, but can usually be addressed via surgery to remove the tumor mass. A malignant tumor is an abnormal growth of abnormal cells. These will cause health problems and can be addressed using surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. As I’ve mentioned before, cancer patients refer to this as the slash, burn, and poison treatment methods. Cells within the human body replicate on different time tables. Cells which line the stomach wall may divide every 24 hours to replace the cells which have been destroyed during the process of digestion. There are other cells, such as those in one’s nerves, which never (or rarely) divide. There are two main phases to cell growth, the Interphase and the Mitotic phase. For a normal cell to replicate, it must meet 3 criteria: sufficient growth, the need for a new cell, and undamaged DNA. To move from the Interphase to the Mitotic phase, it must meet two more criteria: successful DNA replication and sufficient growth. In cancer cells, these checkpoints do not exist and cancerous cells can divide to their hearts content eventually forming detectable cancer tumors. Once cancer cells enter the blood stream or other paths of least resistance (e.g., the nerve structure), they can move throughout the body. If they find a stronghold somewhere away from the original tumor site, this is called metastasis. Cancer patients refer to these as Mets. In my case, I had extensive perineural invasion of cells within the nerve in my tongue. This was the finding following my surgery in July 2006. As a result, the cancer in my body has traveled from the original tumor site to other areas, but not too far from the original site. It has all stayed in my head and neck area. The normal progression of cancer for people with Head and Neck disease has been cancer metastasizing into the lungs. So far, I’ve been lucky in this respect.

Chemo-Brain. This is a lesser-known side effect of chemotherapy and it causes cognitive dysfunction. It is only recently getting more attention. As there are increasing numbers of long-term cancer survivors who are trying to get back to a normal routine, that's where one begins to notice things like the cognitive side effects of chemotherapy. The shifts can be subtle. It may result in a lack of an ability to concentrate, multi-task, or remember things as well as one used to. The more one’s work or personal life demands these functions, the more one may notice the subtle side effects. Subtle or not, chemo-brain can be frustrating to patients, who may suddenly find themselves unable to accomplish tasks they formerly completed with ease. And it's a mystery to doctors, who are still trying to understand what causes it and who is likely to suffer. The good news is that there are new studies taking place to yield insights into better identifying and tackling this side effect. I know that I feel some of these side effects. They are subtle though. I compensate for it by making greater use of to do lists.

I hope this was informative and at least a little bit interesting today. Take care everyone.


pam s said...

Thanks for 'coming out' with some basic info that many of us didn't know. Your ability to articulate on complicated and difficult subjects is one of the reasons i enjoy your blog so much. Speaking for the rest of the idiots, i think you SHOULD write that guide. PS - Well done, Ed, for reducing your pain meds and increasing your workouts - you sure didn't waste any time!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I survivor. I'm a 2nd yr nursing student looking for a Idiot's Guide to Cancer and I came across your site/ blog. The summary of Cancer in your 1st paragraph is spot on to my textbook. I don't know if this web-page is still active but I wanted to let you know that I don't think your lucky, I THINK YOUR BLESSED. Take care of yourself as a whole. Enjoy life,
Peace & Blessings