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New Cancer Treatment: A False Sense of Hope?

‘New Cancer drug offers hope of a lasting cure’, ‘The Great Cancer Hope’, ‘Cancer revolution uses body’s defenses’, are three headlines in yesterday’s newspapers. By 11 o’clock, doctors’ surgeries had queues of people asking for this new miracle treatment.

In reality, the hope is for a distant treatment. Thirty terminally ill patients suffering from leukemia or blood cancer were part of a clinical trial. It involved removing immune or T cells from patients, genetically modifying them with ‘receptor’ molecules to target cancer and infuse them back into the patient. The actual details and data have not been published. Two patients died from an immune response and seven others required intensive care. All these people were terminally ill. This is exciting news, but it’s a long way from the lab to the hospital ward and treatment room. Although this treatment worked remarkably for some, we do not know the long-term effects. The side effects for some are very serious. This technique does not necessarily work for solid tumours, like in breast cancer and it will be years before it becomes a successful reality. It is a baby step in the direction of blood-related cancer. Headlines draw us in, but they are misleading. We don’t bother reading the small print. We want good news in a world of pain and suffering. Hope springs eternal, but hope must be realistic. Our expectations colour our view of hope.

Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone He was indeed the Messiah. Why keep this good news secret? It was not quite what people expected or hoped for. The Messiah would lead a revolution and drive out the occupying Romans. The Messiah would lead the Jewish nation to freedom and greatness. The real Messiah was a Suffering Servant. He came to die for the sins of the world and restore people to a right relationship with God. The hope Jesus embodied and brought, as good news to the world, was not what was expected. The desired reality has not yet fully arrived. Those who really understood faith, believed and formed the first body of disciples and now the community of Christians. Perfect healing of the world and of each of us, awaits the Second Coming of Christ. It is and we are a work in progress.

This new immunological step needs a great deal of development. It joins with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the armoury of cancer treatment. The side effects and long-term efficiency are yet to be proved and how it applies to the wider kinds of cancer we face, is still to be determined.

When the Titanic sank, the Berwick Advertiser headline read, ‘Berwick Man Lost at Sea’. Headlines grab attention and the truth is in the detail. New medical discoveries and advances are good news. Our hope and expectation of medicine needs to be realistic. We will all die. Diseases will continue to kill us. Medicine is limited. The history of medicine shows that we no sooner find some positive cure, only to find a new killer or the return of an old one. Hope ultimately rests in God. He is at work, bringing in full salvation of body, mind, spirit and community.

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