Does Anyone Deserve to get Cancer?

It was not long ago that cancer carried a painful stigma. Patients afflicted with this terrible disease not only suffered with physical pain, but the emotional stress of what was once considered a “dirty” diagnosis. In my practice, I have often encountered patients from various cultures who ask that I not mention the word ‘cancer’ to their mother or father when I describe the treatments I must administer. In some countries, the cancer diagnosis is never mentioned and the treatment employed must, wherever possible, avoid the obvious features of cancer chemotherapy — like hair loss. Indeed, in some Asian countries, immune and nutritional therapies are more popular than chemotherapies as these allow patients to avoid the obvious side effects of cancer treatment.

While we in the U.S. consider ourselves “enlightened,” some of these attitudes persist within our culture, particularly with regard to cancers that had historically been associated with lifestyle or other exposures. Unfortunately, lung cancers and some cancers of the upper digestive tract are viewed in this way even today.

While cigarette smoking remains a principle causative factor in lung cancer, the percentage of men and women who smoke continues to fall while the incidence of non-smoking related cancers is on the rise. We are now witness to a growing realization that more than 20 percent of lung cancers occur in patients with distinct genetic predispositions unrelated to lifestyle or cigarette exposure. In addition, our increasingly polluted environment provides us all an unhealthy helping of carcinogens with almost every breath.

To suggest that lung cancer patients in some way constitute a population less deserving of our care and attention is an affront to the very principles of medical practice.

I, for one, find my increasingly good responses in lung cancer among my most gratifying successes. This heretofore untreatable malignancy is now revealing responses that challenge the successes in the “treatable” cancers like breast and ovarian. As some of our patients with metastatic disease are now alive at five and six years, we are certain that rationally delivered treatments can have the same beneficial impact upon this disease as any other. Every patient deserves the opportunity to receive the best, most effective, least toxic treatment. Our job is to match our patients with their best options, regardless of who they are, how they got the cancer or any contributing factors that may or may not have been responsible.

No one deserves cancer.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

3 Responses to Does Anyone Deserve to get Cancer?

  1. Gary Dobbins says:

    I was immediately amazed to find myself directed to a personal discourse on anything but the topic, nutrition.I was hoping to find a thorough discussion on this extremely important aspect of any successful cancer regression.It was then I realized that the only thing your offering patients is that you are isolating tissue samples to make an easier analysis of pharmacologic combinations .of ,well, lets call them what they are ,”poisions” If this Pancreatic cancer survivor, had any more of his Pancreous removed by a skilled surgeon.He most certainly would already be dead. If this patient was going home to enjoy another porterhouse steak baked potatoe smothered in sour cream and dripping with whole butter he would be dead, leaving your combination of drugs., with a succsess rate less than favorable. Or maybe your patients have radically changed their eating habits.and that alone is what has been the primary element affecting their cancer. These are suppositions but then I would have to guess what your position on nutrition might be because you instead described hair loss stigma, a proponant of again “poisoning”.Maybe you felt that is was so important addressing peoples acceptance of hair loss that your position on nutrition is a non-issue.If this comment is posted feel free to have your clerical team correct my spelling.To answer the all imposing Question “Does anyone deserve to get cancer”? Maybe A more approp[riate question you might discuss in some catagory other than nutrition, might be “Does anyone deserve to die from seeing their doctor”?

    • Our placement of this blog in this category was largely because it fell within the realm of lifestyle. It is regrettable that it so offended the reader. We appreciate and agree with many of the points raised that, many therapies are more toxic than beneficial, that many patients might do as well or better without suffering the toxicites of cancer chemotherapy and that lifestyle, diet, nutrition, micronutrition and environmental exposures are highly important in carcinognesis and survival from this disease. Our point was that indeed cancers occur in patients who do not indulge in such unhealthful practices as smoking. This would actually support your contention that we are exposing ourselves to environmental factors that may be causative. As one of the editors of the international publication, The Journal of Medicinal Food, we strive to explore the scientific basis of nutritional substances as both preventatives and therapeutics. While it is beyond the scope of this discussion to further examine the field, you might find the lead editorial that I co-authored with the senior editor, in the current issue, of interest.

  2. mary mende says:

    I for one greatly appreciate this supportive and objective opinion from Dr. Nagourney regarding lung cancer patients. After being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in Oct. 2010 I can testify that when most people hear lung cancer their first question is “oh my did you smoke?” My diagnosis immediately labels me as though I did this to myself and so I deserve the unfortunate disease. The fact that I smoked 30 years ago before the negative research was reported and that I have over the past 30 years led an above average healthy and happy life is never considered. I am very encouraged by the aggressive chemo sensitivity testing results on lung cancer. Two days ago I had a bone cancer biopsy sent to Dr. Nagourney and I now for the first time in months anticipate a proven treatment approach for my lung/bone cancer. When I was originally diagnosed by my primary care physician he basically told me not to waste the time I have left chasing a lung cancer cure I should make the most of the valuable time I have with the ones I love…..well that is what I have done thanks to my oncologist Dr. Lee and Rational Therapeutics. I hope to be one of the lung cancer survivor testimonials thanking Dr. Nagourney and his staff!

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