months nine and ten

the past two months were spent treating melanoma and cancers of the genitourinary tract (mostly prostate, bladder, testicular, and kidney). these two cancer subtypes are somewhat unique. while most of the cancers of the genitourinary tract are treated with traditional chemotherapy/surgical interventions, the most common genitourinary cancer, prostate cancer, is initially treated using various techniques to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body since male hormones serve as a type of “fertilizer” for prostate cancer. unfortunately, the efficacy of this treatment doesn’t last forever, and other, more traditional, methods of treatment usually have to be entertained.

likewise, the initial treatment of melanoma doesn’t rely on traditional chemotherapeutic agents. rather, the current concepts of melanoma therapy are concentrating on making the body’s own immune system more effective in erradicating the malignant melanoma cells. there is so much to be learned from this research. hopefully, the knowledge of the melanoma researchers will translate to effective treatments of all types of cancer.

we avoid very serious infectious agents throughout our lives because our immune systems have “learned” to protect us from these agents either through vaccination (like polio) or by having come in contact with the agent earlier in life (like “chicken pox”). so why can’t we teach the immune system to recognize a cancer cell as “an infectious agent” and to erradicate it before it causes such devastating outcomes. we are trying to do just that, and, many will agree, that the most promising results are occuring with melanoma. using the immune system to fight cancer is very exciting and, i believe, offers another weapon in the arsenal against cancer. unfortunately, all of what i have said is still investigational and needs validation through further research.

but, the best way to beat cancer is never to get it in the first place. when it comes to melanoma, wear sunscreen everyday (don’t forget the ears and the back of the neck). if you already use a facial moisturizer, just get one that has spf protection. stay out of tanning beds. if you must have a tan, have it sprayed on. have suspicious skin lesions evaluated immediately by a physician. demand a total body skin exam at least yearly when you see your physician. melanoma doesn’t have to arise from an existing mole. all new skin changes should be carefully evaluated.

as to the genitourinary cancers, there is a lot of debate as to whether or not men should be screened for prostate cancer with the use of psa. if the decision is made to have the screening test performed, men must be ready for the obligatory prostate biopsy that should accompany all elevated psa readings. in my opinion, if there is a family history of prostate cancer or if you are in a “high risk” category, psa screening should be performed.

i’ll get off my soap box now.

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