Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Matter Of Time

image of woman holding her bowed and bald head in hands

photo: iStockphoto

By Martin Ashdown and Brendon Coventry

Successful treatment of cancer may depend on the accurate timing of chemotherapy or vaccine therapies to match fluctuations in each patient’s immune system.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Not all cancer patients are cured by chemotherapy, biological therapies, radiotherapy or surgery. Some patients can have complete regression of all cancer, while others do not appear to be responding or show some level of clinical response but not enough to overcome the tumour.

This variability has remained unexplained for many decades, and at the end of this week about 800 Australians with cancer will be dead. In the US the numbers will be close to 12,000 per week.

In May 2006, Science noted that the US cancer mortality rate had changed very little in 50 years despite the introduction of a multitude of often-expensive drugs. The annual associated cost of cancer treatment and loss to society in personal and economic terms amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars globally.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is uncontrolled growth and division of genetically altered cells that typically invade other tissues, may have the capacity to spread, and might eventually kill the patient.

Traditional cancer therapies attempt to stop this cell division by poisoning the cancer cells when they are dividing and most vulnerable. But cancer therapy also affects normal cells as they divide, often leading to unwanted collateral toxicities such as nausea, bowel disturbances, hair loss, immune suppression, ulcers, infection and even death.


The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Martin Ashdown is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine. Brendon Coventry is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Adelaide/Royal Adelaide Hospital.