Seven days have elapsed since I left 100 Mile House, B.C. and traveled northward to meet up with my 80-year-old father. He lives at Fraser Lake where I have been residing while we wait for the results of a diagnostic scan he received at Vancouver last week. Our short time in the big city quickly reminded me why I do not live in a large urban center. The unceasing noise and lack of quiet space began to irritate me after only a day.
Thankfully, the room I was staying in with my dad was quiet and peaceful and served as an oasis of tranquility. We stayed at the Jean C Barber Lodge which is used by people who are undergoing cancer tests or treatment. The accommodations were top notch and the employees and volunteers provided exceptional service and assistance. Our two days at the lodge and B.C. Cancer Agency provided first hand information about medical procedures and people’s experiences with the disease, treatments and side effects. The information was eye opening as people shared their stories.
I was intrigued by a PET/CT scanner and was able to learn why it is used on people such as my father. PET stands for positron emission tomography, a technology which can detect increases in cellular metabolism (changes or activity in tissue) that can indicate the presence of disease. Metabolism is the chemical processes by which cells use food, water, sugar and other nutrients to grow, heal and make energy.
CT is the abbreviation for computed tomography which can detect changes in the size or shape of a lesion and show its exact position in the body. When the two technologies are combined into one unit the scanner can accurately detect cancer and its location when standard tests are inconclusive.
The scanner utilizes a dye containing a radioactive element (tracer) that is injected into a person’s arm. Organs and tissues then absorb the tracer which appears in the PET scan and can indicate how well body components are functioning. The radiation apparently presents minimal risk when compared to its benefit in diagnosing serious medical conditions. The radioactive tracer apparently decays quickly and is basically flushed out of a person’s system within 24 hours if adequate water is consumed.
A PET scan may be used several ways including measuring oxygen use, blood flow, glucose and metabolism in cells. It can help detect cancer and allows doctors to see how the disease metabolizes and if it has spread (metastasized) to new areas. The scan can also show how a tumor responds to a treatment such as chemotherapy.
A bulletin about PET/CT scans at the cancer clinic states, “Active cells such as malignant cancer cells use sugar as an energy source.” Therefore . . . “a special type of sugar is combined with a safe radioactive component to produce a radioactive tracer . . . which will be absorbed by malignant (cancerous) cells but not absorbed by benign cells. This will indicate whether or not a lesion may be cancerous.”
My father has had two go-rounds with two different types of cancer in the last 20 years, so he is naturally concerned about the possibility of a reoccurrence. While the results of the PET/CT scan were available two days after his test, the information could not be obtained for a week since that was the earliest appointment my dad could obtain with his hometown physician. Therefore, my stay in British Columbia was lengthened so I can accompany him when he sees his doctor this week.
Recently, numerous medical doctors have publicly expressed concern that cancer growth may be fueled by diets high in refined sugars, but that is not the general consensus in the medical field. However, in a world with increasing cancer rates it would be logical to take precautions and reduce consumption of food, snacks and drinks containing a lot of refined sugar, especially if a person is dealing with cancer.
Here is what the Canadian Cancer Society says about it:
“Sugar is found naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk and honey. It is also added to other foods like soft drinks, juice drinks, desserts and condiments to make them sweeter.
“Every cell in your body requires sugar (glucose) for energy. Your body can also store sugar to use as energy later. Your body needs this sugar to function normally. Because we consume thousands of dietary components every day, it is difficult to understand the links between diet and cancer.
“What we do know is that Canadians eat a lot of sugar every day. Eating lots of foods that have sugar added means you are more likely to put on weight. Research shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk of cancer. Being obese may cause changes in hormone levels. Changes to sex hormones or insulin might increase the risk of developing breast, colon or uterine cancer. A healthy body weight will be different for everyone, so check with your doctor about what a healthy body weight is for you.”
Now that is a pleasant statement that gently puts responsibility on each individual and it will not anger food processors. Looking at the advertising information we ingest daily and using a little common sense, it is obvious we need more research in this area and a lot more public education and self control!