Friday, June 6, 2008

The Hat Trick

I learned yesterday that I will need chemotherapy in addition to the radiation therapy that I am now undergoing and the the recent surgery. I have taken a bit of a roller coaster ride regarding the necessity for the chemotherapy. As I now understand it, chemotherapy sensitizes the fast-growing cancer cells such that the radiation therapy is more effective. In for a penny, in for a pound I suppose.

Reflecting on all of this, I am brought to my knees with gratitude and praise God that I live in a place and a time where such incredible medical care is available. In last Thursday's Men's Bible Study, one of the men was describing his work in understanding how cancer cells can be unmasked so that our bodies will recognize those cells as foreign and destroy them. I learned yesterday that such a monoclonal antibody has already been developed. It is cetuximab, which is marketed as Erbitux.

This substance works by finding a "receptor" in the cells of squamous cancer called the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor and inhibits it's activity. This is a very targeted approach to the treatment of cancer in that this particular receptor is very active in squamous cancer cells and therefore take up more of this monoclonal antibody and the growth is inhibited and it may also serve as a radiation sensitizer.

Erbitux does not cause all of the toxicity and side effects of cisplatin (the chemotherapy drug normally prescribed). It is not without some side effects. Not the least of which is the $100,000 hole in your bank account or your insurance companies bank account! I don't know if it will be available to me, since the trials were on head and neck cancers that could not be removed surgically. Mine was resectable, and happily so. Undoubtedly, in 5 years they will be putting it in the water supply; along with all the prozac that is already there....(please note that my tongue is lodged firmly in my cheek).

I have also learned that some really bright students at MIT have developed "nano worms". These little carbon nano tudes are coated with some substance that will mark cancer cells. They will be then injected into the blood stream and circulate through the body patrolling for cancer cells. When they encounter cancer they mark it and the bodies immune system will attack and destroy it. Go Scientists go!

It is really good to know that these breakthroughs are being made and that there is the very real prospect that more effective and less trying treatment is on the horizon. Meanwhile, the birds are going nuts just outside my bedroom window and the sun has risen on another beautiful Colorado morning. I am a blessed man.

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