Chemotherapy is Poison. No, Literally.

In 2018, an estimated 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and most of these patients, at some point, will likely receive chemotherapy as part of their treatment plan. This anti-cancer therapy is not one drug, but a category of drugs: All of them work by entering cells and stopping them from dividing into new cells, with the hope that they will stop tumors from growing until they fall apart and go away. Chemotherapy drugs cause considerable damage to any cells that are actively dividing in the body, leading to severe side effects including nausea, hair loss, and immunosuppression.

For that reason, we often call these drugs poisons. But there’s more truth to this designation than you might think: the oldest class of chemotherapy drugs actually derived from mustard gas, a poison the Germans used as a chemical weapon during World War I.

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Cancer Immunotherapy: Living Drugs and Immune Catalysts

Most people find being inside a hospital a bit uncomfortable, as a patient or otherwise. But I find hospitals familiar and comforting, which isn’t surprising considering how most of my early childhood was spent in one. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL. My bone marrow had started to produce immature mutant versions of healthy white blood cells, crowding out my working immune system. Leaving me open to infections and so weak I couldn’t walk. Back then the standard treatment for pediatric ALL was high dose chemotherapy. These drugs killed off the cancerous cells by preventing them from dividing, but they also had the same effect on healthy cells, weakening and stressing my body even further. It took months of intensive chemo and years of recovery, but my ALL eventually went into remission. I don’t have many memories of the time, but my family and those with loved ones who have dealt with cancer know how much of a battle chemotherapy is.

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Your Diet and Cancer: pHacts and pHiction

This is a companion article to the feature Not so Basic After All: The Role of pH in Cancer Therapy.

Based on your reading of the article above, you may be wondering if an acidic diet can cause cancer, or if you can prevent cancer with a basic diet. While the results of the baking soda study might make it seem that way, science points to a more nuanced reality. 

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What Your 23andMe Results Mean for Your Health

Last year, the genetic testing company 23andMe announced they will start testing for mutations in the BRCA genes, the ones that predict whether a woman will develop breast cancer, with surprising accuracy. A year prior, the FDA approved 23andMe genetic tests for other complex conditions such as Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Celiac disease. Continue reading “What Your 23andMe Results Mean for Your Health”

Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer

In the summer of 2018, you probably heard the word “glioblastoma” popping up quite frequently in news reports upon the decline and death of American politician John McCain.  McCain was diagnosed with the aggressive class of brain cancer in July 2017, stopped treatment on August 24, 2018 and passed away the very next day. While this timeline might seem exceptional, the unfortunate reality is that McCain’s experience with glioblastoma is a very accurate representation of the rapid progression of the disease.  In fact, those afflicted by glioblastoma survive on average just over one year upon diagnosis.  Let’s explore what makes glioblastoma so evasive in nature and what scientists are doing to try to increase patients’ lifespans.   Continue reading “Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer”

How Genetic Mutations Cause — And Prevent — Disease

Stephen Crohn, an artist from New York, lost a lot to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. For more than a decade, he watched his boyfriend, Jerry Green, as well as nearly all of his friends slowly grow sicker and perish from this mysterious illness. His passion for his art dried up, and survivors’ guilt consumed him.

But the one thing he didn’t lose during this scourge was his own life. The reason he survived was not luck, however. Rather, he made it through because he carried a rare genetic mutation that made him virtually immune to HIV. Continue reading “How Genetic Mutations Cause — And Prevent — Disease”

How to Read Like a Scientist

It may come as some surprise, but scientists don’t spend all day mixing chemicals, measuring reactions, and hunching over open flames. To ask the right questions and design cutting-edge experiments to answer them, they have to do a lot of reading. Scientists may read about many different topics, including techniques for executing an experiment, the latest findings in their specific field, or communications from outside fields to broaden their horizons. Most of what they’re reading, scientific literature, is filled with numerical data, jargon, and what, quite frankly, looks like gibberish to non-scientists. So when people have to rely on mainstream news for their science, how can anyone expect them to figure out which scientific advancements are on the verge of completion versus those that are just bunk? Let’s take a look.
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It’s 2018. How is Cancer Still a Thing?

Cancer is such a scary word. It comes in many different types, and chances are, it has touched your life in some way, whether through you or a loved one. The lifetime odds that you’ll end up with cancer are about four in ten, and the odds that it takes your life are about one in five. It feels like cancer is everywhere these days, not only in personal stories, but in the fundraisers, celebrity spokespeople, and political speeches on our televisions. In a general sense, this disease can seem daunting to tackle. But on a personal level, one thing is sure – we’ve all seen the toll cancer has on our families and loved ones, and we all aim to prevent it in our own lives. Continue reading “It’s 2018. How is Cancer Still a Thing?”