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Any of us
Cancer: we are all vulnerable

By Dr. Sadar and Dr. Etminan
February 4, 2002
The Iranian

A few weeks ago we came across a letter sent to this magazine. It was from an unfortunate Iranian asking advice on a cancer diagnosis of a loved one. We therefore decided to write this article on this topic. 

We feel from our experiences that this not a very much talked about topic among many including Iranians. Perhaps because it hits too close to home or perhaps brining the memory of a loved one who may have died from cancer may be too painful.

Cancer, or neoplasm, is the uncontrollable division of cells. It can effect every person. For reasons that are not well understood, the controlled divisions of cells that occur repeatedly in our body, suddenly goes out of control forming malignant cancerous cells. The spread of these cancerous cells is described to be similar to a crab-like phenomenon and hence the name "cancer".

Almost all of us know a person close or distant relative that may have been diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis is usually revealed in a physician's office. Then what usually follows is a journey to hell comprised of scans, bloodtests, chemotherapy and even surgery.

The most disturbing part of this journey is not necessarily the side effects of the drugs or the pain of surgery but the uncertainty.  The uncertainty of how far the disease has advanced -- whether there is hope for a cure or whether the battle is in vain.

It is believed that the most common cancers in Iran are cancer of the gastrointestinal system more specifically stomach and oesophagus. Interestingly, this may explain why Iranians are not only unique culturally to the rest of the world but even unique in the type of cancer that afflicts them.  Scientists are still not certain why there is a larger prevalence of GI cancers in Iran versus in Western countries.

In fact Turkmenistan is believed to have the largest cases of oesophageal cancers in the world.
One explanation may be due to the fact that people residing in Turkmenistan are known to drink their tea extremely hot. This is believed to injure the cells in the esophagus and promote initiation of a cancerous process. May be grandma was right after all when she warned us not to drink our tea before it has cooled down.

In Iran like the rest of the world after heart disease, cancer related deaths are ranked second among deaths due to all causes. The Imam cancer registry in the Imam hospital makes an attempt to keep track of all the different cases of cancers of Tehran. However, it is likely that not all the cases are reported which may undermine the integrity of this registry. There are some efforts at national level at Iran to register all cancer cases.

Amazon Honor SystemAlthough no major breakthroughs have been made in the war against cancer many advances have been made.  For example prostate cancer deaths seem to be declining thanks to a simple blood test (PSA) that can detect the disease at early stages.  Testicular cancer, the most common cancer in young men is 90% curable when detected early.

A great success story regarding this type of cancer was the story of Lance Armstrong, the three-time Tour de France cycling champion who was cured after the disease had invaded his abdomen, lung and brain.

Breast cancer one of the most common types of cancers in women is becoming more treatable and women afflicted with this disease are living longer. One reason for this may be due to better screening which results in earlier detection of the tumour. In fact we urge all Iranian women above the age of thirty to routinely screen themselves by the simple technique of self breast examination which can be easily learnt from a family physician.

In Iran those afflicted with this disease are referred to a specialist or a cancer clinic. The main chemotherapeutic agents are available to the public, many of the newer agents specially those to control the side effects of chemotherapy is more scarce and may be too expensive for some to obtain.

Although a small group of elite Iranians may be able to afford to take their loved one to Europe or North America, the majority may be faced with the difficulty of providing the best treatment option for their loved ones.

We therefore have thought of an idea which at this stage may seem only a dream, but we believe it's rewards will be worth all our efforts. We are planning to gather enough funds from private industry including the pharmaceutical industry to bring one unfortunate Iranian cancer patient to Canada and give him or her a chance to a cure. We will keep you updated with our progress.


Dr. Saadat is a Cancer researcher in Tehran University Medical Sciences
Dr. Etminian is a Pharmaceutical Researcher at the University of Toronto

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Dr. Sohail Sadat
Comment for the writer Dr. Mahyar Etminan

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