Slash. Poison. Burn.

 I don’t know anyone who thinks that we’re doing enough to eradicate cancer. I don’t know anyone who even thinks we’re going about it the right way. Billions of dollars in awareness campaigns, research funding, support services…and we often appear to be no closer to a cure, let alone  than we were 50 years ago. Have treatments improved? Yes. Do we better address the multitude of cancer side-effects? Sure. But a cure?

I’m reading Sid Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. In it he addresses the barbaric evolution of Halsted’s “radical” mastectomy. As Mukherjee puts it, Halsted “…chiseled away at cancer with larger and more disfiguring surgeries, all in the hopes that cutting more would mean curing more.” He operated on the belief that if he cut away enough of the body he would eventually eliminate the risk of local recurrence. In fact, he and his students went so far as to remove not only breast tissue but axillary nodes, the chest wall, ribs, collar bones and more.

Even in today’s world of randomized clinical trials, we fall back on the “slash, poison and burn” array of treatment options. It makes me wonder what, of today’s “standard” treatments, will be seen as cruel and barbaric..perhaps even senseless…in the not too distant future.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jan Hasak
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 12:30:35

    Lori, you raise an important point. While surgeons no longer routinely carve out en mass large portions of the chest and arm area to treat the cancer (the sentinel node biopsy was a huge advance, as were the clinical studies comparing lumpectomies with mastectomies), the oncologists still treat the disease systemically in a crude fashion. Research into targeted biological agents/antibodies such as Herceptin has led to some promising results for some, but not for the triple-negative and other types of breast cancer. And the targeted antibody Avastin didn’t make the grade after millions of dollars in clinical and post-market studies. So we do have a long way to go.

    I’ve heard of Mukherjee’s new book and need to pick up a copy. I’m sure it’s very enlightening.



  2. DrAttai
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 19:34:35

    While we have made much progress in terms of the surgical treatment of breast cancer there is still a long way to go, and there is a lot of work in the field of ablative therapies, which destroy the tumor, often through a small skin puncture. Cryoablation (using cold) and radiofrequency and laser ablation (heat) are promising, and cryoablation is being used as part of a national clinical trial (Click to trial) and enrollment will hopefully be complete within a year.
    Targeted chemotherapy and biologic agents are also very promising. However even better would be prevention. Hopefully in our lifetime.


  3. Sandy Marx
    Jul 11, 2011 @ 08:40:37

    I can remember the days of the radical mastectomy, and the time when enough medical data had been gathered to change the thought on that technique. More recently, I can recall that the idea of stem cell treatment for breast cancer was ruled out as a method for treatment. What present day treatments will seem barbaric in the future, well, it’s unimaginable. But here is a wish; may all those people traveling on this path, be here when new approaches are made and the cure is discovered.


  4. Dennis Pyritz, RN
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 08:42:08

    Lori, Thanks for letting me know about your blog. I have added it to my Cancer Blogs Lists at Being Cancer Network ( I plan to republish your post “Surviving Someone Else”s Cancer” as a guest post this week. Keep up the excellent work.
    Take care, Dennis


  5. Mighty Casey
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 10:39:11

    Terrific perspective on why I say cancer turns you into kudzu. First they cut you, then they poison you, then they burn you. Even if they leave one of those on the shelf, you still wind up feeling like kudzu: slashed, fried, nauseous, or all of the above. I talk about it in short and at length in my book – and it’s one of the most important reasons why early detection for ALL cancer is utterly critical. Forget a cure. Just FIND it.


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