Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Monitoring cancer after diagnosis is a hot topic. My oncology and breast team are bewildered that I refuse to have regular mammograms. Why? Because mammograms contain harmful radiation which can spark breast cancer, particularly if you have the BRCA gene. Compressing the breast in this unnatural way can also spread tumour cells if cancer is present. Mammograms have been largely credited with reducing breast cancer rates over the past 20 years by early detection, but the sad truth is that many of these cancers are non-invasive (like Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) and would never evolve into aggressive, life-threatening disease. In allopathic terms survival rates are measured by being alive 5 years after diagnosis. The earlier cancer is found, the higher the 'survival' rates are, purely because of the length of time it takes for cancer to metastasise and overwhelm the body. 

I choose instead to have thermal imaging with Dr. Nyjon Eccles. This type of monitoring has a lower incidence of false positives, and is better able to find cancer cells in their infancy, so malignancies can be detected earlier. It's non-invasive and is radiation free. It works on the premise that cancerous tissues hold heat, taking longer to cool down than normal tissue. Ideally one breast is monitored against the other to look for 'hot-spots' and abnormalities, but as I only have one breast, my 6 monthly scans are compared against each other.

Another conventional form of monitoring is scanning. When it comes to CT scans, tumours can generally only be picked up once they are at least 5mm in size. Consider that many cancers have doubling times of 80 days. This means that metastasised cancer is often picked up relatively late. CT scans certainly have their place when monitoring tumours in stable disease, but to their detriment they also emit large doses of targeted radiation (about 100 times the equivalent of a chest X-ray).

Blood testing is the final allopathic means of monitoring. However, cancer would have to be well established for metastasised disease to show in such a test. Some cancers (like that of the breast) are not reliably monitored this way as only a small percentage display the antibodies being looked for. My oncologist is monitoring my CA-153 levels every 6 months. The results so far have been stable, but are meaningless if my cancer doesn't produce this marker. Instead of relying solely on this information I opt for minimal residual disease testing with Nicola Hembry. This test is very sophisticated and measures the level of circulating tumour cells in my blood. If the level rises, or the characteristics of the cells change, something is happening which needs to be addressed. This test shows cancer cell activity, and risk of recurrence earlier than a conventional blood test, and as we all know, the earlier we act, the better our chances of survival are. 

Conventional medicine has certain monitoring modalities at it's disposal: mammograms, scans and blood tests, but these are not necessarily at the cutting edge of cancer treatment. No external screening is 100% effective, and with that in mind I will continue to reject dangerous or dated monitoring in favour of up-to-the-minute technology to keep an eye on my residual cancer.

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