Jan. 10th, 2009

joreth: (Nude Drawing)


There has been a new link discovered between the Herpes virus and brain tumors.  Let me be perfectly clear here.  This does NOT, I repeat, NOT mean that herpes causes brain tumors.  At this stage, the relationship between the cytomegalovirus and the tumors is uknown.

What is known is only that in nearly two dozen samples analyzed, nearly all of them were " teeming" with CMV.  Researchers are net yet sure if the virus causes the tumors, or their coincidental presence merely enhances the progression of the tumors in some way, and the answer to this question will be a long time coming.

Cancer has been the big bogeyman for several eras.  It has eluded detection, treatment, and cures.  For a long time, no one knew what really caused cancer, why one person would get it and another person wouldn't.  The medical community has had some of these answers for a while now, but it still strikes fear into the hearts of the general public who does not understand science or who does not keep up with medical research, or who are forced to face their own mortality.  It still has an aura of mystery to it, why me, why mom, why now?

But with diligence, we are slowly unraveling the mystery.  We know the causes of several types of cancer, but we still don't yet know why some people manage to fight and win, and others succumb.  The article made a slight mistake, it cited only 3 types of cancer with known causes:  liver cancer (Hepatitis B), and lymphoma (Epstein-Barr virus), and the article points out only cervical cancer that is caused by HPV, although we now know HPV to be the cause of genital cancers in general, as well as many cases of head and neck cancers. 

This may sound frightening at first, that yet again we are faced with the possibility that a "sexually" transmitted disease that was once thought to be non-fatal, merely profoundly annoying, could actually be lethal.  But first, I'd like to point out that brain tumors are not actually all that common, and that the incidents of brain tumors have not increased with this discovery. 

Second, I'd like to point out how exciting this discovery is, because it, as the article says, opens up a whole new avenue of inquiry for one of the most intractable cancer which is almost always fatal.  With this discovery, medical science has a new direction to look in for prevention and treatment of an illness that, frankly, has been kicking our asses.  Not only does it shine light into the area of this particular study, but combined with the HPV-cervical cancer link (and subsequent links to all the other genital cancers and the now-leading cause of oral/throat cancers), it is forcing the medical science research community to overcome their bias against the virus-causes-cancer theories and it opens a whole new realm of possibilities for research for a lot of different illnesses that have been kicking our asses.  Although there are several different causes for cancer, including tobacco, pollution, radiation, etc., some continue to elude us and discoveries like these make it progressively more difficult to continue putting our fingers in our ears and singing "lalalala, it's not a virus, it's not a virus!"

This story also helps to remind us to have more respect for those STDs that are "just annoying" and the people who suffer from them.  We can't take a cavalier attitude about something that just happens to not be immediately fatal and we can't condemn people who suffer from illnesses because of a bias that says they're "dirty" or they "deserved" it because of their behaviour or to overlook their suffering because of the misassumption that the disease is "just annoying" (have I ever mentioned how much I hate the rationalization that any STD is "just annoying" simply because you don't keel over and die immediately?).  HIV is scary, but it's also pretty easy to avoid, now that we know so much about it. 

But HPV and herpes are not easy so avoid.  I put the word "sexually", from sexually transmitted disease" above in quotes because both HPV and herpes are so easy to catch that you don't really require sexual behaviour.  But up until recently, both viruses were not taken very seriously by society in general, because neither one killed, or so we thought.  Since the advent of the pap smear, the mortality rate of cervical cancer has dropped like a stone in a deep pool.  And that's fantastic.  But it's not the end of the story.  It could have been, but someone out there continued to research, continued to investigate, continued to say "that's not good enough, we should not have to live with the threat of cancer, no matter how small".  And now we have the vaccine.  And better diagnostic tools are on the way.

And now, we have learned of a link between CMV, a virus that is found in approximately 80% of the population (similar to HPV) and previously thought to be "harmless", and one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumor we know.  To say "well, the odds are high that you'll probably get it sooner or later, so just don't worry about it, there's nothing you can do anyway" is not only insensitive, it's also incorrect.  There is plenty we can do, including education and research funding, not to mention taking care of our own bodies and modifying our behaviour to minimize risk - although we can't live in a bubble, we don't have to throw all caution to the wind either.  There is already research being done into a vaccine and treatment medication for the tumors using the CMV research.  Science gives us hope.  I do not put my faith in science because I do not need to.  Rigorous research and testing provides answers ... slowly, cumberously sometimes, with plenty of false starts and blind alleys, but answers nonetheless.


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