Doc: Cancer is not contagious like an infection
Dear Dr. Roach: A friend of mine is undergoing treatment for cancer. He has a golf-ball-size squamous cell tumor on the side of his neck. He used to smoke cigars. He is going to get chemotherapy, to be infused 24/7 — one week on, one week off, for at least two rounds. I’ve never heard of this.
Also, his wife was told that she can’t kiss or touch her husband, as there is a chance of her catching his cancer from his sweat or saliva. Could this be true?
Dear K.B.: In head and neck cancer, trials have found that, with some agents, chemotherapy delivered continuously by IV infusion using a pump led to a better chance for complete response and for survival, so this way of giving it is becoming the standard. By infusing it at a constant rate, the levels in the body don’t get so high that toxicity is increased, nor dip so low that the medication is ineffective against the cancer. There are many chemotherapy regimens for head and neck cancer; not all given by 24-hour infusion.
The idea of “catching” cancer like an infection is wrong. I can only imagine there was a serious miscommunication.
There are two reasons to consider isolating a patient from his or her family. The first is to protect the patient. This is critical when the treatment disrupts the immune system, as is the case with many cancer treatments, but it’s also the case in treatments for autoimmune and other disorders. It is particularly important when the family member might have an infection, which literally can be deadly to someone with a severely compromised immune system.
Protecting the family member may be appropriate under certain circumstances, such as if the person getting treatment develops a serious infection. (C. dificile is one common reason for this.) Cancer patients receiving radioactive substances sometimes are isolated. Chemotherapy itself can be highly toxic if spilled, but fear of that shouldn’t stop visits.
Perhaps your friend’s cancer is related to human papilloma virus, a growing head and neck cancer cause, and there was a misunderstanding about being exposed to HPV. Even smokers can have HPV-related cancers. During their marriage, your friend’s wife certainly would have had risk of exposure to her partner’s HPV, which could possibly lead to cancer. That does NOT mean that his wife can’t give him a very important hug.
Dear Dr. Roach: Lately I have been overwhelmed by all the hoopla concerning the health benefits of 3 percent food-grade hydrogen peroxide therapy. It has been touted as a “cure all” of many diseases by oxygenating the blood. Furthermore, it seems to be used very successfully in Europe. So, what are the benefits of such therapy? Is it the real deal?
Dear R.J.G.: Hydrogen peroxide is poisonous and should never be ingested. It is not an effective treatment for any disease. Hydrogen peroxide poisoning is becoming increasingly prevalent. The 3 percent strength rarely causes serious problems, but it is available in higher strengths, and that is where fatalities have occurred.
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