Fri, 09 Aug 2002

New cancer treatment is now on the way, DIGM tells patients

Debbie A. Lubis, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Patients diagnosed with cancer can enjoy their life longer as a new cancer treatment called antiangiogenesis will be released soon, a doctor said on Thursday.

Abraham Simatupang, deputy chairman of Deutsch Indonesische Gesselschaft fuer Meidzin (DIGM), said antiangiogenesis was designed to prevent the growth of tumor blood vessels so the cancerous cells could not metastasize -- spread or develop -- in the patients' bodies.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the preparation of the DIGM Annual Meeting which focuses on cancer issues. DIGM is an association of doctors in Indonesia who have graduated in Germany.

Cancers are abnormal cells which continue to divide uncontrollably. Normal cells usually divide only to replace worn- out or dying cells or to repair damaged cells.

Abraham said that cancer cells often spread systemically through metastasis -- by entering the bloodstream and lymph vessels and replaced normal tissue in other parts of the body and forming a solid tumor.

Cancer cells in the solid and non-solid form (like in leukemia -- cancer of the blood) would involve the blood and circulate through other tissues.

"The cancerous cells cannot get the oxygen and nutrients from blood vessels. They will "starve" and die soon because of that," he said describing what happens through angiogenic inhibitors. He predicted that the inhibitors will be available next year.

Currently, there are some 40 angiogenic inhibitors in clinical trials conducted by research centers in the U.S. and Europe.

"The inhibitors vary, there are both synthetic and natural ones. One of the naturally-sourced inhibitors is a substance from shark's bones," Abraham said.

He added that he did not recommend that pregnant women with cancer take the angiogenic inhibitors because it could block the embryogenesis.

Henry Naland, an oncologic surgeon at Mitra Internasional Hospital who is also a DIGM member, said that the new treatment could support the current cancer treatment like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

"It will reduce the risk of cancer cells relapsing," he said.

He predicted that the treatment combination could extend the five-year relative survival rate of the first degree cancer patients up to 90 percent.

The five-year relative survival rate is commonly used to monitor progress of the patients who continue to live five years after diagnosis, whether they are in remission, disease-free, or under treatment.

Henry, however, said that early detection of cancer by regular screening examinations was an important weapon in the fight against cancer.

"Anyone can get cancer at any age. The sooner a cancer is found, the sooner the treatment begins, the better a patient's chances are of a cure," he said.

Henry said that the fourth degree cancer patients only had a 10 percent chance surviving past five years.

He said that the risk of developing cancer can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle like having enough sleep, doing workouts, quitting smoking, and eating a healthier diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.