[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2001-02Fr -- A Cure for Cancer?
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A Cure for Cancer?

January 12, 2001.

Health care is always a hot topic in this country, and Mike jumps in the deep end with this article on a possible cure for cancer.


A Cure for Cancer?
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.ca)

On April 1, 2000, the "National Post" ran a front-page headline that lit fires across the Canadian medical landscape.

"DISCOVERY COULD WIN WAR ON CANCER", it stated, big and bold. It was a major story, and no April Fool's joke. After all, who doesn't know of someone who either had cancer or who died from it. The story that followed had it all: besieged doctors fielding desperate calls from cancer sufferers; lab mice losing 85 percent of tumours; drugs available now. The story itself was equally exciting; it had the word "cure" in it, mentioned several times.

According to the paper, a report (released from San Francisco where a major medical conference was then convening) revealed that Canadian Doctor Robert Kerbel, of Toronto's Sunnybrook and Women's Hospital, had developed a technique which had been dubbed "metronomic dosing". It had shown spectacular results in tests conducted in laboratory conditions on mice.

The procedure, which is actually a low dose, continuous regimen of chemotherapy coupled with the drug Celebrex (an anti-inflammatory), removed tumours in 85 percent of the trials. The findings caused the normally cautious Kerbel to speak effusively about the discovery and what he saw as its future.

"We're not talking about clinical trials that are going to take five to ten years," he said. "We'll probably have an answer within half a year to a year."

As of today, Health Canada has yet to receive even an application for metronomic testing. Its use on humans, according to Michael Hayden, the director of Health Canada's Protection Branch Drug Directorate in Ottawa, must be approved and that route lies through the branch's application process. He said that this wasn't unusual. Doctors and researchers on projects like these are very conscious of what they are doing, and that their findings, if released prematurely, sometimes produce lawsuits.

"I'm afraid I have no information yet on anyone that has applied for its use," Hayden said. "Drug companies tend to be very hush-hush about things like this. They would have to go through Health Canada for approval eventually though."

Celebrex itself was released for public consumption in April last year after being vetted by Health Canada. It has been allowed for the use and treatment of a wide range of ailments, from arthritis to penile erectile dysfunction. So far, however, it has yet to be given the green light for the treatment of cancer.

If Bryan Allin, a 50-year-old Richmond man, had waited for the approval, he would have been dead by now. His cancer (lung, lymph node and adrenal gland) was essentially a death sentence when it was initially diagnosed in March last year. The Canadian Cancer Agency branch in Vancouver, where he was given his prognosis, gave him the grim news.

"I was told that I wouldn't see Christmas," he said. "I went home, basically to die."

Then Allin got a bit of hope. A friend of his had seen the "Post" article and called him. He wanted Allin to go after the treatment. "After all," said the friend, "what do you have to lose?" Allin agreed. A series of phone calls followed.

"My friend called me back and he said that he had reached an oncologist (a cancer specialist) who wanted me to see him," Allin said. "The next thing I knew was that I was booked into see this Dr. Peter Klimo, up in North Vancouver. I had given up hope at the Cancer Agency. They sent me home to die. They treated me bad."

Ironically, it was the BC branch of the agency that sent Allin to Klimo. "Chemo Klimo" as he is called by some of both his patients and colleagues, was recommended to Allin's friend by an employee at the West 10th office of the Canadian Cancer clinic. She didn't want anyone to know that she was recommending him. It could cost her her job.

"He's known to be... 'adventuresome'," was all the friend was told. "He will do things that a lot of other doctors won't."

Indeed he was. The penalty a doctor can incur as a result of prescribing unlicenced drugs can contain harsh measures. Loss of licence looms large.

Allin was put on the program. The doctor agreed to it almost immediately. Allin came away from the first visit revitalized. A lot of Klimo's patients come away from his office that way. Allin got it first hand from several. One, in particular, stuck with him.

"This guy I saw in the office waiting room came out of the building at the same time as me when we were leaving the building. He told me this tale about some guy from West Van that had been diagnosed with cancer. The guy (he's pretty rich) flies over to Europe convinced his only chance was in Switzerland. When he gets there, he goes to a fancy clinic and asks for the best doctor the clinic can recommend -- the best there is to treat his cancer. They gave him Klimo's name," he said.

It wasn't all roses for Allin though. His worsening condition forced him onto the welfare rolls. He had to quit his job. This action, too, proved a mixed blessing. Celebrex, the active drug in the therapy, wasn't covered by Pharmacare under his plan. Social Services clients, however, do get the drug at no expense to them.

As Bonnie Chan, Pacific Blue Cross, said, "It's not covered because it isn't recognized by the BC government." The irony isn't lost on Allin. As he says, "On one hand they won't pay for it. On another, they will. Go figure."

The Canadian Cancer Agency's head office, in Toronto, doesn't have much beyond the initial research findings either. Jennifer Morrcroft, a media relations consultant for the group's communications department, admitted her group had little to work on.

"We issued a release on it in late April of [last] year and that was about the extent of it," she said. "The fact is, this isn't unusual of these types of things at all."

Morrcroft admitted to being a little bit disappointed though.

"In the beginning when this information was released," she said, "we did have our hopes up. We don't even know whether or not the research has even started yet. We thought at the time that it would have proceeded faster than it has because the drugs in it are Health Canada approved."

Allin, who was declared "cancer free" after his second and last ten-week follow-up visit, feels for those who aren't as lucky as he was. He knows he has dodged a bullet.

"I got pretty lucky. I am going to see Christmas this year and I wasn't supposed to live to see it. This kind of stuff really opens a guy's eyes," he said. "A lot of people aren't going to get the chance I got. I feel for them. This treatment saved my life. It should be out there."

He is going to give a bit back now he says. He's feeling stronger and wants to get back to work as soon as possible. First though, he wants to do a gradual entry into it. He figures that's the best way. Start out a little at a time.

"I applied for a job last week," he said. "I want to be on the 'Red Kettle' (the Salvation Army's Christmas program). I've got to give something back."



Sunday sees Jim Carrey's biography, a profile of Come By Chance, Newfoundland, and some statistics on changes in motor vehicle registrations in Canada.


I really enjoyed this article, and hope you did too. Let us know if you have any topics you'd like to see addressed on Fridays by writing to me at john@factscanada.ca.



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