The old medical joke that ‘the treatment was a success, but the patient died’ warrants a hollow laugh at best; it’s too often near the truth.
Take, as an example, the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease (HD), considered to be one of the great medical successes of the 20th century. Fifty years ago, the patient survived only for a couple of years, but today, the five-year survival rate has risen to 85 per cent.
Aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy can successfully treat the cancer if caught early enough – but too many women who are treated go on to develop breast cancer.
One study discovered that, of the 3,817 women aged 30 or younger who had survived their HD therapy for a year or more, 105 had developed breast cancer.
Not surprisingly, researchers from the American National Cancer Institute discovered that the risk increased with the intensity of the radiation to treat HD. A dose of 4 Gy increased breast cancer risk by over three times, and a 40 Gy level raised that eight-fold. Those who were treated solely with chemotherapy had an increased risk of just 0.6 times, and this rose to 1.4 times if there was a mixed treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 465-75).