Changing the Way the World Detects Cancer
AS PRINTED IN THE AUGUST/SEPT. 2015 TOWNSEND LETTER.
By Jenny Hrbacek, RN
The typical annual physical in the United States might include a mammogram, Pap test, or PSA count. These tests screen for reproductive cancers only. Occasionally, a colonoscopy may be ordered which looks in the large intestine, but does not examine the small intestine where cancers can also develop.
By the time a mammogram, for example, can pick up a breast cancer, it is often far enough along that the patient is immediately whisked into surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Screenings are not the same as prevention. In some circles, screenings are described as “trolling for business” because they are not sensitive enough to offer true early detection for prevention.
Yet true early detection tests exist, and are readily available, if patients know to ask for them. These tests are much more sensitive and can detect cancer years before the lump or bump is diagnosed by more common means. These tests also detect a wide range of cancers. Depending upon the test, they can give an early warning for kidney, bladder, thyroid, uterine, and brain cancers; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; pancreatic cancer; leukemia and more.
One of the ironies of human nature is that we tend not to change our ways until we have to. An early warning that cancer cells are circulating in our blood stream can be the incentive necessary for people to change their diet and work with an integrative practitioner who can establish a preventive protocol – perhaps intravenous vitamin C with Poly-MVA, and the use of curcumin or metformin to address cancer stem cells.
The more sensitive cancer tests available also play a big role in managing the post-treatment patient. Cancer patients who have completed their standard regime of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation need to know if their cancers are receding or growing. Typically after treatment, oncologists use standard tumor marker tests. If an elevation is seen with a tumor marker, a PET scan is ordered. The patient is subjected to carcinogenic radiation and the test results are often used to justify starting treatment again. Now the cancer is usually more aggressive and harder to treat.
The real danger of a repeat episode of cancer is metastasis. Statistics tell us 90 percent of people who get a recurrence of cancer die within five years. We now have the ability to see a metastasis coming much earlier than when the tumor has grown big enough to absorb enough radioactive glucose to light up on a PET scan.
Jenny Hrbacek, RN, is the author of Cancer Free! Are You Sure? A Guide to Early Detection Tests.
Some early detection tests find substances present in the blood when cancer is present. For example, we can now test for the ENOX 2 protein which is found only on the surface of a malignant cancer cell; this protein is not found in the blood of a person without cancer. We also can test for thymidine kinase (TK) levels which go up significantly when there is a rapid amount of cell division, a hallmark of cancer’s growth. Other tests look for carcinoembryonic antigens and phosphohexose isomerase (an enzyme implicated in metastasis).
Additionally, we are moving beyond the idea that chemotherapy is a one-size-fits-all treatment. Oncology is evolving to a more personalized approach and we now have the ability to test a blood or tissue sample against the many possible chemo drugs available to see which ones would be most effective, and not expose patients to the toxicity of those drugs which won’t be effective for their particular cancer.
We can also use a blood sample to test which of more than 40 natural, biological therapies will be most effective for each person. The list ranges from artemisinin and ascorbic acid to metformin and mistletoe.
It is very common that once cancer gets a foothold, it progresses for 8-10 years before it is detected. New advances in technology bring us a new era, one that will change the way cancer is detected. The great news for patients is that this kind of early detection will not focus just on treatment, but also on interventions to prevent a formal diagnosis.
Jenny Hrbacek, RN, is the author of Cancer Free! Are You Sure? A Guide to Early Detection Tests, published in 2015. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and was told the surgery and chemotherapy she undertook would make her cancer free. Jenny began to research cancer and testing and learned she was not cancer free, and that there were many options besides waiting every 6 months for the standard tumor marker tests. She now teaches and consults with cancer patients. She can be reached at www.cancerfreeareyousure.com.