Column was off the mark
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
It was with great interest I read the column by Ross L. Talbott of New Castle entitled, “A Horrible Illness Called Cancer.”
Most of the time I have read Mr. Talbott’s column with great interest and some agreement. I must confess the column in today’s paper (4/6/09) is so far off the mark it requires a cogent reply to all the statements he has made.
He states, “people suffer horribly from the radiation, chemotherapy and surgical procedures doctors use and the results are seldom even minimally effective.” The truth is I have been practicing oncology for almost forty years, and have yet to see a significant number of patients who “suffer horribly.” The survival rates from the more common forms of cancers such as breast, colon, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s disease, and acute leukemia have all risen steadily over the last 20 to 30 years. Today, more than half the people diagnosed with cancer will be alive and survive it for over five years.
With regards to his statement about patients with cancer owing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars; this is a reflection on the inadequacies of the health care system, not on our ability to treat. Unfortunately, as targeted therapies have become more available, they have also become more expensive, and again I have had much success in obtaining coverage for patients with and without insurance so that, to my knowledge, no patient has ever been denied treatment for financial reasons.
His statement cancer treatments are not only “costly but brutal” is not only unjustified but definitely misleading. I, too, have a grandson who has had cancer. He was diagnosed with a stage IV neuroblastoma three years ago, and has undergone a stem-cell transplant, high-dose chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy; and today is a healthy, rapidly-growing young child.
Mr. Talbott states wild animals do not have cancer. This is grossly inaccurate. The reflection of the small incidence of cancer in wild animals is merely based on the fact few wild animals are seen by veterinarians prior to their demise. His statement a house dog which developed a tumor was put outside and soon the tumor disappeared is anecdotal and totally irrelevant to the management of human patients with malignant disease.
He also states there are whole groups of people in other parts of the world which have never experienced or even heard of cancer. I doubt that is true and I would be most interested in the evidence he has to support it.
He states cancer cells in the ear are the same cancer cells in the toe, the lung, or anywhere else. This is grossly inaccurate. Cancer cells come in all varieties: squamous cells which arise from the ectoderm or the external layer of the fetus; mesodermal cells are involved with muscle, tendon, and bone; and endodermal cells are all different and readily identifiable by markers which are used by pathologists to identify and classify tumors.
He states he has come to the conclusion cancer is likely a nutritional deficiency. This is an interesting statement, but again totally unsupported. He says the FDA and AMA work really hard to discredit any suggestion of treatment which is nutritionally-based. This is false. In forty years I have never received any financial remuneration from either the FDA or the AMA. My ability to survive as a practitioner is solely based on the satisfaction of my patients and the results which I am able to obtain for them. Had a nutritional basis for preventing or treating cancer been developed, I would have been the first to grasp at it.
He then says a nephew of his, who is licensed to practice medicine in Colorado, was required to sign that he would not prescribe Laetrile. This is grossly false. Laetrile is a name given to an extract of apricot pits which contains cyanide in a form which was alleged to be therapeutic in the treatment of a multitude of cancers. It has clearly been demonstrated in multiple studies (some done at the National Institutes of Health, some done at the Mayo Clinic), to have absolutely no value whatsoever.
To state cancer victims resort to nutritional therapy after conventional therapy has failed is a reflection of the fact people never give up hope, and often resort to unproven methods in management to feel they are doing something positive to help control their disease.
The facts are these. Our ability to diagnose cancer earlier has become much improved through the use of radio immuno assays for things like carcinoembryonic antigen, prostatic specific antigen, human chorionic anisotropine, alpha fetoprotein, etc. The use of PET scans (positron emission tomography), MRIs, mammograms, and CT scans have also helped in this area.
The ability to tailor radiotherapy beams to the tissues that we wish to affect utilizing proton beam therapy (highly columnated beams of high energy particles) has improved the treatment results and decreased the toxicity to surrounding tissues. The ability to tailor chemotherapy to specific tumor cells has changed the pattern of toxicity which was once very common, and our ability to control these diseases has become greatly improved.
For an individual such as Mr. Talbott, who is well-respected in our local community, to put forth an ideology based on disinformation, misinformation and lack of information is unacceptable, as it may influence patients to leave conventional medical care for alternatives which are of no value and oftentimes are extremely toxic as well as costly to their pocketbooks.
Ira S. Jaffrey, MC. FACP
The writer is a board-certified medical oncologist and board-certified internist who is presently on the faculty of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center as an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. He has previously served as president of the Rockland County Unit of the American Cancer Society. He was on the faculty of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and has published and lectured extensively on cancer prevention and treatment on an international basis.
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