Today two stories came out about cancer treatment,with exactly the opposite emotional impact.
First I read the good news. Korean researchers made an impressive breakthrough.
Magnetic nano-particles injected in the vicinity of cancer cells cling to the apoptosis receptor DR4, which can order cancer cells to kill themselves. When a magnetic field is projected from outside the body, nano-particles become magnetic and deliver the suicide order to the DR4, changing cellular activities and the cancer cells disappear within a few days.
Immediately thereafter, this study shocked me. How Effective Is Chemo Therapy?
... despite the mounting evidence of chemotherapy's lack of effectiveness in prolonging survival, oncologists continue to present chemotherapy as a rational and promising approach to cancer treatment.
"...in lung cancer, the median survival has increased by only 2 months [during the past 20 years, ed.] and an overall survival benefit of less than 5 percent has been achieved in the adjuvant treatment of breast, colon and head and neck cancers."
The authors point out that the similarity of the figures for Australia and the US make it very likely that the recorded benefit of 2.5 percent or less would be mirrored in other developed countries also.
Basically, the authors found that the contribution of chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was 2.3 percent in Australia, and 2.1 percent in the USA. They emphasize that, for reasons explained in detail in the study, these figures "should be regarded as the upper limit of effectiveness" (i.e., they are an optimistic rather than a pessimistic estimate).
... the apparent gulf between the public perception of chemotherapy's effectiveness and its actual mediocre track record can largely be attributed to the tendency of both the media and the medical profession to express efficacy in terms of relative rather than absolute risk. "The minimal impact on survival in the more common cancers conflicts with the perceptions of many patients who feel they are receiving a treatment that will significantly enhance their chances of cure," the authors wrote.
As an example of how chemotherapy is oversold, they cite the treatment of breast cancer. In 1998 in Australia, out of the total of 10,661 women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer, 4,638 women were considered eligible for chemotherapy. Of these 4,638 women, only 164 (3.5 percent) actually gained some survival benefit from chemotherapy. [emphasis mine]
In essence, while research continues to advance, the chemotherapy available now puts a hundred patients through months of expensive torture so two to three of them will live a few months more. Meanwhile the other 97 or so throw away their last few months of life with hospital visits, vomiting, and useless suffering. This is completely different from what I thought I know about chemotherapy. This does not address the usefulness of surgery or radiation treatment, BTW. Personally this is scary and depressing.
Image from 13 side effects of chemotherapy
So in her case the chemo was worth it. That's what you're saying?