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What is the cancer?

It is definetly not one disease; it consists of many that start in the same way: a perfectly
normal cell uncontronlingly growing and dividing. Cancer cells are a very powerful part of human body acting
in a hectic way, getting crazy and wanting to live at the expense of the entire body. It is already known that
cancer is the fastest growing disease on earth and one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide.
One in two American men and one in three American women will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes and
mostly everyone will suffer because this terrifing disease, lying in their bodies or in their friends and relatives.
Under these circumstances, why did I choose this subject?
Not only was this dreadful mistery what made me take into consideration medical school as an educational
future option, but the challange that lies behind the disease, the unknown, the way that doctors tried to stop the
unstoppable way of transforming life. Therefore, my project focuses on the obstination of the researchers to
conquer cancer, on the impact that this disease had and has on American society and on the evolution in
chemotherapy .
For the begininning, we all now that we can treat bacteria and viruses that come from the outside, but how is it
possible to kill your own full of life cells and spare the rest of the body? Being caused by changes to genes that
control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide, cancer wants to live and it will win,
eventually.
Being diagnosted 70 years ago with cancer was an excruciating sentence to death. Some surgeons, as
William Stewart Halsted, tried to cut some cancers out with the scalpel, having some happy cases, but a lot
more of tragic ones. In the 19 century, a biologist noticed cells are not only the base for healthy life, but also for
disease and said that every cell comes from a previous cell and so on. Therefore, the cancerous cells certainly
came from a cell that wasn`t cancerous. This idea made researchers like Willian Hastled think that if cancer was
just a collection of abnormal cells, it should be possible to cut it off with the scalpel. Being very perfectionist
and innovative, Hastled tried to cut more and more tissue around the tumor in order to prevent the cancer to
reappear. . He started cutting muscles around the tumor , making a real excavation into women`s bodies. He
called this procedure : ”the radical mastectomy”, that was very deforming, but in spite of this he saved the life
of many patients. He thought that a big operation is more likely to cure a big cancer. in spite of a large number
of people having been cured, there was a significant number of patients that still relapsed with the disease
somewhere else in their bodies. Consequently it was a limit to what surgery could do. Halsted surgeries did
work, but it was one half of truth. What did he miss?

At the end of the 19 century a student in Chicago, Emil Grubbe was interested in newly discovered form
of radiation called X –Rays, that could pass though the skin. He wondered if they could focus to a point to reach
the tumors that were inaccesible for surgeon. He successfully treated a erderly woman with breast cancer after
18 sessions of radiation. But few months later, the cancer metastasized to her spine, liver and brain. Grubee
concluded that X-Rays could produce cancer, too and they should be used in an adequate amount in order to
spare the rest of the body.
In the middle of WWI, a volley of German artillery shells rained among British soldiers, carring mustard
gas, a toxic substance that caused burns, blindness, and even death. But doctors could see a long-term effect on
the few who survived- the gas had as target only the white blood cells in its victims. Two Yale researchers
studied the gas and tried to cure cancer with a similar one, nitrogen mustard. Sidney Farber, a pediatric
pathologist that studied at Harvard Medical School, read their paper realizing that the chemicals can cure
cancer; so it was the time he tried others. He looked for a less toxic substance to use. As leukemia had the
advantage of being measured just by drawing a sample of blood and looking at it under the microscope, he
could easily see the improvement in this disease. In 1947, Sidney Farber tried for the first time the drug
aminopterin to cure leukemia on kids. In spite of 10 of 16 of them showed in short time promising signs of
remission, after months of trials leukemia returned and they were succumbed one by one to their illness. He
tried other drugs on children , too, but he needed more than motivation, he needed resources, money to make a
trial. Marry Lasker, an American fundriser helped him by create a kind of public force around cancer by
deploying all her wealthy friends and reaching deeply into the minds of the American public. Together, they
transformed National Institute of Cancer from a poorly funded agency into the center of cancer world, whose
scientifical director was Gurdon Zubrod, a specialist in infectious diseases.
Zubrod paired two young scientist coincidentally named Emil Frei and Emil Freireich and fostered a try-
anything approach. No compound was too toxic, no place was too far away. They thought as previously Sidney
Farber did, that a specific substance could be an anti-cancer compound. Each drug came with the question:
Does it kill the cancer? If it does, what dose?

The reasearchers did all they could but the progress was agonizingly slow. No sooner a drug began to work than
the cancer would adapt a defence to it. As Zubrod had so much experience in infectious disease , he knew that
in order to prevent resistence, they had to combine to drugs to increase the efficiency. But how much of each
drug should they put?
They tried firstly with a two drug combination, and then , being encouraged by the pronuced declines in
white blood cell counts, they thought that if two drugs is better than one, than four must be better than two.
Even if other doctors thought this method too much daring and harmful, this drug combinations first tested by
Frei and Freirech laid the base for the new chemotherapy era. Children in trials underwent 12 months of painful
treatment and eventually were completely cured of leukemia.