On Beating Cancer

Reacting to David Kuo’s brain tumors, Rod Dreher writes:

As with my late sister Ruthie, I know David is going to beat this cancer, even if it takes his life.

During the years I was a hospice volunteer counselor, I met a remarkable oncologist who offered a valuable perspective on his role as a physician:

Most oncologists say they treat cancer. I don’t treat cancer. I treat cancer patients. If you treat cancer, if you have to “beat cancer”, you will lose most of the time and start to feel angry and discouraged about your profession and maybe even angry at your patients for making you feel like a failure. But if you treat cancer patients, you realize that you are working fundamentally with a suffering human being, not a mass of malignant cells. And that means you can always be a good doctor, regardless of whether the patient lives or dies.

Suffocating, Sugar-Addicted Cancers

Life is tough when you are a fast growing-cancer, because your host has difficulty meeting your increasing needs for oxygen. You can cope by stimulating your host to grow more blood vessels to carry oxygen to you or by metastastising your cells to oxygen sources elsewhere in the body. But some hypoxic cancers have an even more impressive trick up their sleeve when they can’t enough oxygen: They switch their energy supply over to glycolosis (The breaking down of glucose).

The advantage of glycolosis to otherwise suffocating cancer cells is that oxygen is no longer needed. The disadvantage is that clever researchers can fix your location by looking at sugar absorption rates within your host’s body.

Dr. Kristin Sainani relates the fascinating science of hypoxic cancer cells in this month’s Stanford Magazine.