Monday, January 05, 2015

Biological Bad Luck

I read the news report on the 1st of January, and for one moment I was so confused that I had to tear my eyes away from the story to check out the dateline. Surely it must be the 1st of April, was my first dazed reaction. How else could one explain such a ridiculously unbelievable headline on the front page of the newspaper? This was the sort of news item that was more suitable for April Fools’ Day.

“Cancer caused by bad luck,” the headline shouted, making light of a disease that continues to haunt mankind in spite of the advances in medical science and technology. 

The report said that the dreaded C-word, cancer, had precious little to do with bad behaviour or risky actions, in most cases. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University studied 31 cancer types and found that 22 of them, including leukaemia and pancreatic, bone, testicular, ovarian and brain cancer, had nothing to do with bad genes or the environment or any faulty lifestyle choices. They were caused by random mutations that occur in the DNA when cells divide. 

As the researchers explained it, essentially biological bad luck. 

A lottery of sickness that you win, without buying a ticket.

The upshot of all this was that the best way of treating these types of cancers was through early detection, when they are still curable by surgery, giving the body a better fighting chance against the disease.

Of course the remaining 9 types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, smoking-related lung cancer, were the exceptions to this odd phenomenon. Incidentally, the study did not cover all cancer types.

But in a scenario where two-thirds of the types of cancers could strike a person unawares, it was essentially very unsettling news. Being a health freak, and living a clean lifestyle could not guarantee you a long life. On the other hand, those inclined to continue with unhealthy lifestyles, trusting to the odds that this news seems to put forth, are just making life more difficult for themselves.

We’ve all known of people who have led clean lives and then been diagnosed with cancer. The little child, the housewife with two children less than five years old, the young man or woman who is adored by family and friends.

Why? That is the first question we feel compelled to ask.

All this while people with a severe addiction to smoking and drinking go on to puff and gulp their ‘weaknesses’ into their seventies and eighties, and then die peacefully in their sleep.

Another reminder of just how unfair life can sometimes be.

There was another reason why the news report rattled me.

A day later, the Husband’s cousin was diagnosed with cancer. It can’t be, we all shook our heads in disbelief. She was a hardworking woman, working with her husband in the family enterprise, two young teenage kids.

No vices, no family history of cancer.

Why her?

The news report helped me correlate its findings to her situation, but it still didn’t make any sense.

I suppose even the researchers understand that. That is why, even as they advanced their theory of bad luck, they advised that people live a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid the misfortune of “adding” to the bad luck.

Science has long been known for trouncing that which has no explanation, for insisting on reasons for every phenomenon.

And yet, deep down we’ve always known that science does not have all the answers.

It can't, for example, tell us how to go about avoiding that bad luck.

The more we know, the more we know how little we actually know.

1 comment:

  1. Life can be unfair, but that I think makes it all the more beautiful and precious.



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