Research, News Can Provide Hope for Breast Cancer Patients

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Although I’m not a scientist (I remember high school chemistry quite unfondly), I sometimes feel like one, cruising the Web looking for news about breast cancer.  I subscribe to a daily e-mail alert at PubMed Central, the National Institutes of Health digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. And every day, when I open a new e-mail, I’m treated to an array of links to articles like this: “Accumulation of Oxidatively Induced DNA Damage in Human Breast Cancer Cell Lines Following Treatment with Hydrogen Peroxide.” Whew.


    Believe it or not, I regularly click on many of these links. Not because I think I’ll learn something new about breast cancer; usually these articles are way beyond me. But I like to scan the article abstracts because they reassure me that someone, somewhere is doing the complicated, probably tedious research that will someday, somewhere lead to a cure for breast cancer.

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    Too often we think that the cure for cancer will be one of those “Ah-HA!” moments, when a scientist in a pristine white lab coat holds a test tube up to the light and says, “This is it, I’ve discovered the cure!” But I doubt it will happen that way. Instead, the cure will be a collection of small triumphs in workaday labs; men and women doing the gritty work of medical research, day after day, year after year, every now and then enjoying their own “Ah-HA!” moments.


    Curing cancer feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle. When you first start, the task looks impossible. But the closer you get to the end, the more easily the pieces go together. And the final piece, satisfying though it is, is no more important than any other piece; it simply completes the picture. That may be how cancer is finally cured. One last research project, a final clinical trial, will bring all the years of research together into a big picture that makes sense. Ah-HA! Now we get it.


    Or not. Perhaps the cure will be more subtle, a growing body of knowledge forcing cancer into an ever-more submissive role. A chronic illness rather than a death sentence; then something you shake off, like the flu. Maybe someday a cancer vaccine, delivered along with your inoculations for tetanus and diphtheria and pertussis and polio. “Remember cancer? What a killer it used to be?”


    I want to live to hear those words.

Published On: June 22, 2007