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Doc: Can cancer ever ‘resolve’?

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: Two years ago, my mother had a large mass surgically removed from her colon. (A laparoscopic surgery with colon resection.) The operative diagnosis was cancer that had metastasized to her lymph nodes. A quote from radiology following her PET: “She lit up like a Christmas tree!” The lymph nodes weren’t biopsied, and she received no radiation or chemotherapy.

Last month she had another PET scan, which showed that “the majority of the previously noted enlarged lymph nodes have resolved.” Does cancer “resolve”? If this report is accurate, my mother’s body seems to be clearing up the cancer. I’ve never heard of this. Right now, she experiences chills daily. Can it be that her white blood cells are actually fighting this cancer and winning?

My mother is 83. She has pretty good energy. Based on this report, she says she is cured and will live to be 100. She’s planning on leaving the assisted living facility she moved to two years ago. She wants to move into an apartment building! As you can see, we’re depending on accurate information to inform us so that we can make good decisions.

J.B.

Dear J.B.: It is possible that your mother had a near-miraculous cure of advanced colon cancer. It sounds from the PET scan (which looks at size of lesions and their metabolic activity inside the body) that she may be cancer-free. I can’t tell you whether those original lymph nodes were really cancerous, but in the situation of a large colon cancer, those nodes usually are.

It’s also possible the original nodes were not cancer; rather, they were part of the body’s response to the colon cancer that was removed by surgery.

In either event, it does seem that your mother may be free of cancer. Unfortunately, I can’t give any opinion on her likelihood of reaching 100 (most 83-year-old women with no medical problems do not), because her case is unique in my experience and that of an eminent oncologist I consulted. Some cancers, especially kidney cancer, have been known to have distant disease “melt away” after the initial mass is removed surgically, but it is rare even in kidney cancer, and I have not heard of that happening with colon cancer.

I’m sorry I can’t give you my advice on her leaving her assisted living facility, but I do feel she’s been given a great gift and should live her life to the fullest.

Dear Dr. Roach: Your article on osteoporosis advised that one must take vitamin D and calcium when taking Actonel or Fosamax. Is this also true if one is taking the semiannual injection for osteoporosis?

J.W.

Dear J.W.: Calcium and vitamin D are essential in combating osteoporosis. Calcium is the raw material that strengthens bones. Vitamin D enhances calcium’s absorption.

The answer to your question, therefore, is yes.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.