The cancer fighter generally deploys more than one kind of weapon; a combination suited to specific cancers and patients is more effective.  Surgery or radiation of an original tumor may be backed up by chemotherapy to eliminate metastases, and as many as 10 drugs maybe used in combination or succession to kill every last malignant cell. Or any of the three therapies may begin a course of treatment to reduce the size of a large tumor, with the others coming in as needed.

Each of the three brings its own risks and costs. Surgery is never completely safe, and cancer surgery can be disfiguring. Radiation and chemotherapy can be hazardous even when closely monitored and both have side effects ranging from mild discomfort to outright illness. But for many patients the very harshness of cancer treatments comes as a challenge to fight the disease through. Ruth Cullen - a victim of Hodgkin's disease - noticed that her first dose of anticancer drugs came in a syringe labeled 'poison'. "It was a turning point", she recalled. "It marked a real loss of innocence. Up until then, i hadn't admitted that there was anything wrong inside. Putting that stuff in there made it very real to  me that there was something inside my body that was trying to kill me". Two years later, after a grueling course of radiation and chemotherapy, not a trace of her disease could be found - and she felt , she said, "like one of a charmed circle".

To enter that circle, a cancer patient must get the right treatment, in the right amount, at the right time. Not all do. Dr.Juan del Regato of the University of South Florida, in a comprehensive textbook on cancer treatment, wryly described various hurdles  on the path to the best possible treatment. They include, he wrote, "wishful thinking (to which physicians are not immune), geography, luck, misinformation (lay and professional), organization, luck, facilities, skills and a great deal of luck".

The hurdles are real enough, yet almost every cancer victim can leap over all of them - including the hurdle of luck. A worldwide network of laboratories and hospitals, of research scientists and physicians have been established to pursue the search for cancer cures, exchange information on new findings and therapies and make the best professional services available to every patient who needs them.



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