What does cancer remission mean

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What does cancer remission mean

It's important to know, that when you're diagnosed with cancer, you have literally billions of cancer cells in your body. Even the mass, that you can see, has billions of cancer cells in it. When we start treatment, the goal is to kill as many of those cancer cells as we can. And, as fast as we can. And, what normally happens with a sensitive cancer, and more and more of them are sensitive, is you start the treatment, the tumor shrinks down, or the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow start disappearing. And after a certain period of that treatment, which by the way is called the indication treatment, can last anywhere from a month to several months. Depending on the cancer. You may not be able to detect any cancer in the patient by the techniques that we have available. Meaning bone marrow tests or MRIs or things like that. That does not mean the cancer is gone. Because, when you get down to a level about 1 to the 10th to the 6th cells, which is roughly 10M or so. I probably don't know if my numbers are quite right, but whatever that represents, it gets down below the detection of any technique we have now. So, remission is the state where we've give the treatment, the cancer has shrunk away. We can't see it by the techniques we have. But, we know that it is very likely there is microscopic cancer cells left in the body. That if not treated, will come back. And, how do we know that? Because, in the old days, we often just treated until the cancer seemed to be gone. And we stopped. And in significant percentage, more then 50% in most of the cancers, it came back fairly quickly. So, that meant those cancers cells were there. We just didn't kill them. But, we couldn't see them. So, remission means, "We can't see them, but it doesn't mean they're all gone." And that's why, once you achieve a remission, almost always you continue with additional therapy for a period of time. Depending on the kind of cancer. To try to kill the residual cells that you know are around and need to be destroyed. In order to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back.

Watch Stuart E. Siegel, MD's video on What does cancer remission mean...


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Stuart E. Siegel, MD

Director, Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Before recently shifting his focus to international medicine, Stuart Siegel, MD, was Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology for 35 years and the founding director of the the Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Professor and Head of the Division of Hematology-Oncology Department of Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. He remains a leader in supportive care and research in pediatric oncology, with a special focus on neuroblastoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Ewing Sarcoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and brain tumors. From developing the first pediatric protective environment in 1971 for children undergoing intensive chemotherapy, to pioneering current efforts to develop academic and clinical care programs nationally and locally for adolescents and young adults with cancer, Dr. Siegel’s contributions have revolutionized the field of pediatric oncology. Dr. Siegel has been honored for his work by the American Cancer Society, Children Foundation, the Cancer Foundation, the Chase Foundation, Padres Contra El Cancer, the Israel Cancer Research Fund and Ronald McDonald House Charities, where he is a member of the National Board, and has consistently been listed among the nation’s top doctors in such publications asAmerica’s Top Doctors and Best Doctors in America. He is a father of one son, Joshua; grandfather of David and Elijah; and lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife of seven years.

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