In my first year of college we learned about the DNA, its replication and fixing mechanisms. When you talk about problems in these mechanisms, one of the first things you mention is cancer and I got to learn a few basic points about cancer - mainly, the fact that it is a disease derived from mutations. The idea that this disease comes from probably the most basic part of our being seemed intriguing to me. Before that, I had no knowledge of the mechanisms of cancer, or how we treat it. I had heard about radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but I had no idea what they were designed to do.
My aim with this article was to try and explain how cancer works in our body, and what makes it complicated to treat. I saw this as an opportunity to learn about the methods we use to treat cancer, how effective are they and find out about new developments in the field. I knew that there’s a lot to read about cancer, even if you don’t plan to cover half of it, so I decided let my research last for as long as it needed. This quickly ended up as the subject I researched the most. I feel like I have covered most of the basics about this disease. The overall conclusion I got from all of this is that we’re slowly getting better at treating cancer and helping cancer patients deal with the disease. All in all, this has left me optimistic.
At first, I did not know what exactly I wanted the article to be about - what areas of this subject I wanted to tackle. I started writing this article as if I’m going to cover a bit of everything I read. The first draft became a 6,000 words essay, with many of its parts connected only vaguely. I rearranged and rewrote a few of the parts to try and decide what was important and what I could let go. Eventually, I broke down all of my ideas to Ami, and she helped me decide to just focus on the few bits that are in the article. Some of the parts that I decided to drop are definitely interesting, but they’re not what attracted me to write this article in the first place. To me this article has definitely been an exercise in focusing on a specific question and separating the wheat from the chaff.
There are two more points that I wanted to talk about.
The first one is radiation from cell phones. Every once in a while this subject pops back up. Can radiation from cell phones lead to cancer? Is it dangerous? As far as I’ve read, every research that addresses this question shows that it is not dangerous and will not cause cancer. Still, you cannot be too safe and so warnings are printed on the boxes and booklets of cellular devices. I think that the closest thing to a proof that these devices are not dangerous is somewhat evident in the numbers. In the last few decades, we have gone from a world with absolutely no cellular devices (and the radiation they entail), to a world that is simply full of them. Everyone has a cellular phone these days, from young kids to the elderly. They are either in every pocket or in our hands. I now wonder if people still sometimes carry their phones in holsters on their belts. We regularly bring them close to our heads, when we use them as actual phones. Even when you forget your phone at home and have to spend a few hours detached from it, you’re surrounded by the phones of your peers. You would expect to see a rise in the number of cancer cases that would represent this sudden increase in radiation, but there is no evidence of it whatsoever. Even if there’s a lag between the onset of radiation and the appearance of a tumor, we would have seen something by now. In an unrelated manner, evidence is beginning to point at a higher risk of melanoma caused by the use of tanning beds.
Let’s now talk about cancer in remains of ancient people. Cancer rates are increased these days because people live longer, and thus the chances of cancer development are greater, but if cancer existed for who knows how long, is there evidence in fossilised bodies? In short, yes but it’s rare to find anything. The simple explanation is that cancerous tumors usually occur in soft tissues that disintegrate quickly and so the evidence do not last long. Evidence of cancer that occurred in or affected the bones may survive through time, but this is somewhat rare and you would have to test thousands of fossilised bones in order to find evidence of. To ‘dig’ deeper into this, I recommend reading ‘Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate’, a fascinating article by George Johnson, from 2010.
To read about new developments in the field, you can check out the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 13th Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer. It really helped me with a lot of information that I needed for the article. This features a lot of updated information from a few angles and I found it quite encouraging, really. Some of it is in medicalese, but it’s still a very good read.
Thank you for reading!