Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Red foxes and silver linings

I've been lucky enough to have some great opportunities to take wildlife photos this summer. In the UK it is always very difficult to photograph wild mammals, on the whole they do a great job of avoiding people. Until just a few weeks ago I'd never managed to photograph wild foxes but then I got the opportunity to spend an afternoon in a hide in Ivor near Slough. It was like a sauna in the hide but the discomfort was worth it. Here are a couple of the shots that I took:

These cute little characters are this year's cubs; for around ninety minutes or so they repeatedly visited the area in front of the hide. It was terrific fun watching and photographing them.

I was due to start my sixteenth treatment cycle with Trabectedin on Tuesday however my white blood cells had other ideas and my blood count was slightly too low to enable me to go ahead. This is disappointing given that I'm on a reduced dose of the chemotherapy and that I'm only having the drug once every four weeks rather than once every three. This means that I'm receiving significantly less of the drug than the recommended treatment protocol specifies. I will try again on Tuesday next week.
I will have my next scan on August 16th. The result is going to be pretty critical as we need to make a decision on whether the Trabectedin is still delivering enough benefit for me to continue with it. The other option that Katie and I have discussed with my oncologist is to switch treatment to Pazopanib but we don't want to make that decision unless we're absolutely sure that the tumours have developed resistance to the current treatment. It will be an anxious wait between having the scan and getting the results a week or two later.
On the bright side the delay to my treatment means that I will be feeling well enough this weekend to attend a party that some friends of ours are having to celebrate their recent wedding. I really didn't think we'd be able to go and I'm very pleased that we can.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

More research on Omega-3

My last post commented on the confusing nature of research into the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on the efficacy of chemotherapy treatment. This morning BBC radio news reported the results of research into these substances and prostate cancer; the findings claim to show that men with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood are at significantly greater risk of developing aggressive forms of this disease. This raises further questions in my mind about the role omega-3 fatty acids may play in both the initiation and progression of tumours.
Whilst I've been writing about omega-3 fatty acids similar uncertainties exist around the potential benefit or harm caused by many other substances. In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary I will stick with a healthy, balanced diet avoiding supplements (unless instructed otherwise by my oncologist).
In discussing the issues around diet related research I'm not criticising cancer research in general; I'm convinced that research into the disease is the best tool we have for improving patient outcomes. I read a really positive story on the Cancer Research UK website today which claims that half a million lives have been saved in the UK in the last thirty years as a result of cancer research. I'm always a little cautious about taking statistics at face value, but in this case I think that the overall message is more important than the detailed figures. Let's hope this trend continues in coming years!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Diet and cancer, an update

One aspect of my treatment that has surprised me has been the lack of any detailed advice from my doctors regarding what I should or should not be eating. The only advice I've had is that I should eat a balanced diet. This seems a little odd considering the significant volume of information in the press and on the radio, TV and internet related to how one food or another might be good or bad for people with cancer or for those on chemotherapy.

Trying to make sense of the information in the media is not straightforward. For example, back in 2011 a Dutch team from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht published a paper that suggested that some types of fish oil could inhibit the function of some chemotherapy agents. It was reported that the specific oils involved can be found in fish oil supplements containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The leader of the research group, Professor Emile Voest, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph saying "These substances can be found in some types of fish oil. Whilst waiting for the results of further research, we currently recommend that these products should not be used whilst people are undergoing chemotherapy".
Since reading about this research I've tried to limit my intake of oily fish during the week when I receive my chemotherapy, however I recently read an article that highlights new research that shows that specific fish oils can boost the effectiveness of some chemotherapy agents.
This research is good news, however I think it also illustrates the real difficulties facing cancer patients when it comes to making decisions about diet. Most scientific research papers are difficult to understand even for the well informed so it can be difficult to know what to conclude from them. This uncertainty can be increased when other research appears to reach a contradictory conclusion. 
Given these difficulties and in the absence of specific advice from my doctors, I prefer to focus on eating a healthy diet containing a wide range of fruit and vegetables. I don't take any dietary supplements as it is difficult to work out which might be beneficial and which harmful or simply neutral. I'm sure that in the future there will be much more detailed dietary advice provided to cancer patients taking into account the specifics of both their disease and their treatment, however I don't see this happening for some years to come.
For those wanting more information on the research mentioned above the abstracts of the reports are available at the links below:
I've been taking advantage of the good weather to photograph some of the wildlife in our garden. This is an aptly named 'Beautiful Demoiselle', we also get large red damselflies but they are not as handsome as this character: