EDITOR’S NOTE: FROM 2021 T0 2022

By the Editor

Archbishop Tutu

The year 2021 ended with the loss of some prominent people, one of whom  was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a significant figure in the struggle against apartheid, who passed on December 26. A note like this will not do justice to his remarkable life. Suffice it to say that he will remain an excellent role model  of  humility and moral courage.

One noteworthy aspect of the archbishop’s life is that he was a cancer survivor. A Cancer diagnosis used to be a death knell. However, Archbishop Tutu’s who was diagnosed with prostate cancer lived productively for a whole generation (1990-2021). His life and those of other cancer survivors demonstrate that cancer is no longer the dreaded disease it once was, especially if diagnosed early. Developments in biomedical technology have produced unbelievable knowledge of the biology, biochemistry, genetics, endocrinology etc. of cancer and from such knowledge emerged an incredible array of diagnostic as well as treatment tools.

PET ScannerHistology and clinical examinations are no longer the only diagnostic tools. Other methods now include an array of imaging techniques including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-rays, computerized tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), with or without contrast substances. A variation of these methods, prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA)PET, uses biomarkers that are specific to prostate cancer cells, which allows a more accurate identification and location of metastatic (disseminated) cancer.

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are no longer the only options available for treating cancers. Treatment with single agents is also rarely used these days. Many small molecules have been developed for inhibiting the production and function of cancer promoting substances in the body. They can be used to prevent, manage symptoms, or cure certain cancers.

Cancers such as cervical cancer, caused by human papilloma virus, can now be prevented by vaccination whereas other cancers can be targeted for treatment with monoclonal antibodies or other immunotherapy.

Genetic analyses have now identified biomarkers (DNA, RNA, proteins, etc.) which are specific to certain cancers. Such information is helpful in knowing the risk of developing the specific type of cancers. Armed with such knowledge people can minimize their risks by changing their lifestyle, avoiding living in risky environment, and controlling their diet.

Cancer biomarkers are also helpful in the development of the new branch of medicine, Precision Medicine, in which cancer treatments are individualized based on the individual patient’s disease profile.

Furthermore, biomarkers are helpful in early detection of cancers. The earlier they are detected, the better the chance is for their complete elimination or effective management of their symptoms. Therefore, it is highly recommended that people with high cancer risks undergo annual checkups when and where possible. Mammography for women, colonoscopy for Black people in particular, digital examination and PSA measurement for men are a few examples of cancer screening methods.  

With early detection and better treatment, cancer is no longer the dreaded disease it once was. With some cancers like prostate cancer, many people die “with it” and not “of it”.