Of the 700,000 or so cancer surgeries done in the US per year, it is estimated that 40% of these patients develop recurrences with poor outcomes. These are some scary statistics.
The American Cancer Society (not my favorite organization) states that there are two reasons why the cancer came back:
- Smaller parts of a tumor were missed during the surgery that later grew.
- The cancer was resistant to traditional cancer treatment.
What if there was a third reason why the likelihood of cancer returning after cancer surgery is so high?
As you may know, I read quite a few medical journals per month across many specialties. This allows me to get a bird’s eye view of the research and allows me to connect articles in medical journals that have no relationship to one another. Take, for example, Gut, which is a gastrointestinal journal aimed at those treating gut disorders, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which is a journal geared towards basic understanding of all of the sciences and is more of a academic focus.
So what does it mean when these two journals post articles with different authors from different countries on the same topic? It means we should sit up and take notice.
It may be the surgery itself.
Here are some important details to know:
- It is very common for the recurring cancer to be phenotypically different from the original cancer. That means it has changed in character. Because of this, what worked for the original tumor may not be as effective for the recurrent cancer.
- Surgery is very stressful to the human body, resulting in the release of chemical messengers. These may include compounds that suppress the immune system, compounds that increase the development of new blood vessels (this will promote cancer growth) or compounds that increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Either way, the surgery induces critical changes for a short period of time that may favor tumor growth. For a thorough review, read this article.
- Anesthesia may play a major role; IV agents ketamine and thiopental seem to have the greatest concern.
Sometimes, cancer surgery can’t be avoided. So what can you do to mitigate the damage caused by the surgery? Here are some tips:
- Laparoscopic surgery is less damaging to the body; opt for this if possible.
- General anesthesia is of greater concern and may decrease survival; opt for regional anesthesia if possible.
- If the above two aren’t possible, you need to go into surgery fully armed with protection. That means meditation (to reduce stress), an absolutely pristine diet, a high quality greens drink (so long as it won’t interfere with bleeding, although this is not likely) and the highest quality multivitamin.
As always, prevention is your best option, but I understand that sometimes this falls through. At this point, we need to do everything possible to improve your outcome of survival. This is another aspect of the process that can put you in the steering wheel of survival.