Long-Term Cancer Treatment Increases Risk
A new study has found that women recovering from breast cancer stand an increased risk of recurrence even after five years of post-surgery chemotherapy and hormone treatment. The study, out of the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, followed 2,838 women who were cancer-free after undergoing surgery and radiation and who underwent up to five years of additional chemo and treatment with tamoxifen thereafter to avoid a recurrence. Unfortunately, within ten years of completing the additional treatment, one out of five of the women experienced a return of the cancer.
The research team concluded that new treatment options are necessary beyond the five- year window. As Dr. Abenaa M. Brewster, one of the study authors, said, "[These numbers] highlight the need for new [therapeutic] options for women who have completed five years of treatment."
The news here is that this study made news at all. It makes perfect sense that five years of chemo debilitates a body enough to make it ripe for a return of cancer. After all, chemotherapy drugs are known carcinogens. While they might target and kill a particular cancer, they simultaneously increase the odds of getting another cancer later on. For instance, research shows that tamoxifen, which had been commonly prescribed to breast cancer patients during the years of this study, promotes liver, endometrial, and uterine cancers, as well as blood clots in the lungs, deep vein thrombosis, vision loss, memory loss and "brain fog," and osteoporosis. While tamoxifen largely has been replaced these days with a new class of estrogen-inhibiting drugs known as aromatase inhibitors, these drugs also have toxic effects (notably severe joint pain and bone loss) so significant as to cause 30 percent of women who start treatment to discontinue it.
As I made clear in "Chemotherapy, an Interesting Choice," chemotherapy works by poisoning rapidly dividing cells. The theory is that cancer cells divide more quickly than other cells and so the chemo drugs will target them, but in fact, chemo drugs also destroy other healthy, dividing cells while they're on a killing spree. Certain fast-dividing immune system cells are particularly vulnerable, as well as blood-producing bone marrow cells, cells in the digestive tract, and hair follicle cells -- which is why hair falls out during chemo treatment. As the chemo drug kills healthy cells, you become more and more debilitated. In other words, the cells needed to maintain healthy functioning and to ward off disease are compromised and destroyed, and your system is set up perfectly for developing new cancers and other diseases -- again, in addition to the fact that chemotherapy drugs are known carcinogens.
I'm not saying that chemotherapy is never warranted. In a small percentage of cases, chemotherapy absolutely can help -- which is not to say that other approaches wouldn't work as well, or better. In fact, the benefits of chemo vary widely from cancer to cancer -- sometimes improving "short-term" survivability by as much as 50%; but also, in many cases, by 1% or less. For example, the statistical chances of chemotherapy being helpful with lung cancer are less than one in 100, and yet doctors often pressure their patients into utilizing what is in this case a non-effective and debilitating treatment. And on top of everything else, the success rate for chemotherapy is highly age dependent. It is much more likely to be effective with the young who have strong immune systems, dropping to about 50/50 by age 50. And by 50/50, I don't mean that it's effective 50% of the time, but rather that it's a 50/50 call as to whether doing chemo or nothing at all is the better option in terms of survivability. And by age 55, you're statistically better off doing nothing rather than subjecting yourself to chemo. And once again, we're only talking short term survivability here. Long term, even for the very young, chemo has significant consequences -- 1, 2.
Even more importantly, whatever else you can say about chemotherapy, no one can claim it addresses the underlying cause of cancer. It merely attacks symptoms. No one, not even the most jaded doctors in the world, claim that people get cancer because they're suffering from a chemotherapy deficiency. Is it any wonder, then, that cancer returns after chemotherapy? It does nothing to address the cause of the initial cancer, it debilitates the body, and it's a known carcinogen promoting the growth of future cancers.
The only remarkable thing about the study in question is that doctors seem surprised by the results.