The Radical Remission Project

So it is well known that some cancer patients — even (very occasionally) those with metastatic forms of prostate cancer — have what have commonly and historically been known as “spontaneous” remissions. Their apparently lethal cancers simply seem to “disappear”. Why? We really have very little idea!

A small research team has initiated The Radical Remission Project to try to look seriously and scientifically at this issue. If you are, or know of, any patient who appears to have had a spontaneous remission after a diagnosis of potentially lethal prostate cancer (i.e., probably not just low-risk disease) — or any other potentially lethal cancer for that matter — you might want to visit this web site and think about participating in this project.

The project is the brainchild of a researcher called Kelly Turner, PhD, who became interested in such radical remissions while she was an undergraduate at Harvard University. She became aware of how little research was being done on patients who had had this type of remission and decided to make this the focus of her PhD thesis at the University of California, Berkeley. The PhD thesis turned into a book (Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds) and then into a more serious, long-term research initiative.

As Dr. Turner points out, based on her research to date, typically there is nothing spontaneous about these unusual types of remission. Most of the patients who experience these remissions were actively doing something to facilitate healing.

For additional information about Dr. Turner’s findings to date, you might be interested in reading this article on the Medscape Oncology web site. However, you should be warned. … Dr Turner is keen to point out that what she has learned to date does not constitute some sort of set of recommendations about how to cure cancer. She is a serious researcher exploring what she considers to be a serious topic. … Why do these remissions occur, and what is it that patients are doing that appears to influence the likelihood of such events?

2 Responses

  1. Isn’t it interesting how easily Western medicine can dismiss away anything that has not been vetted in a peer-reviewed, double-blind study? At what point in time do we as a culture recognize that positive outcomes might evolve from things we are unable to understand?

  2. Jim:

    In fairness to all concerned, the fact that unexplained remissions of advanced (and less advanced) forms of cancer occur on a regular if rather rare basis has been well known and well documented in the literature for many, many years. Understanding why these remissions occur is an extremely complex problem, however, because the numbers of patients in whom this occurs with specific forms of cancer is tiny. Getting grant funding to explore and research such remissions over the many years it might take to understand even one of them would be a challenge for all sorts of reasons.

    On the other hand, you should appreciate that it was these unexplained remissions that were the fundamental basis for the idea that there might be immunological ways to treat cancer (prostate cancer specifically included). In other words, if we could modulate patients’ immune systems, then we might be able to slow or even reverse the progression of at least some cancers. It is now clear that this is indeed possible: a variety of drugs that modify or stimulate the immune system have now been approved by the FDA. The first were the interferons back in the 1980s; the prostate cancer-specific example is sipuleucel-T (Provenge); there has been a recent stream of new immune-modifying drugs that seem to have a high level of therapeutic effect in melanoma (long known to be sensitive to immunological treatment); and then there are things like the CART therapies that I referred to on this site just the other day.

    This raises the question of whether many of the “radical remission” cases that Dr. Turner has identified and started to investigate happen to have occurred in people who were somehow able to “self-stimulate” their immune systems in a variety of ways. Quite how one would be able to investigate and explain such self-stimulation “after the event” is going to be a challenge. Sometimes research is a matter of timing. The idea that “Western medicine” necessarily “dismisses” things that it can’t explain scientifically is an illusion. One can acknowledge that something happens without necessarily knowing how it happens. Western medicine has never denied the existence of such remissions. It just hasn’t had a clue why they happen. Dr. Turner would probably tell you that just because she has collected certain types of information about the behaviors of the patients in whom these remissions have been documented does not mean that there is necessarily an effect based on any specific activity or behavior(s); rather, there are “associations”. And, as we know from thousands of other epidemiological studies, “associations” are by no means the same thing as “causes and effects”.

    We all know that being as active as one can manage and staying as “healthy” as one can while one is sick is often a good idea, as is appropriate rest and time to “let one’s body heal itself”. But at the other end of the scale, if I was to start telling people that if they were active and prayed and thought positively and “had hope in their hearts” that it would necessarily lead to their prostate cancer vanishing, I hope you would accuse me of being out of my tiny mind. Over 25 years I have certainly heard of small, low-risk prostate cancer tumors “vanishing”. This is, in fact, well documented in a number of the modern active surveillance series. On the other hand, to date, I have never heard of a single case of metastatic prostate cancer that went into complete, long-term remission without serious medical intervention of a pretty aggressive type.

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