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Crab legs

Since ancient times, the word "tumor" was applied to any lump in the body, usually due to inflammation. Nowadays, tumor is an exclusive synonym of neoplasia. Neoplasia means, literally, "new growth", although this growth in some tissue develops independently, because it does not obey normal instructions imposed by the body. Oncology is, therefore, the study of these neoplasias or tumors (in Greek , oncos refers to tumor) 


Cancer is the way to designate any tumor with malignant behavior. Although origins of the word cancer is not precisely known, it is believed that it comes from Latin, for "crab", because the crab holds obstinately to anything that grabs.

Galeno, a physician from Ancient Greece, already described cancer as "a tumor that grows in every direction, with prolongations that invade adjacent tissues, which look like crab legs".

Little by little, supported by modern medicine advances, keys to getting de crab to release its pray have been found. Nevertheless, ignorance is frequently the field by which the crab comes on the scene  and holds onto its pray with its innate obstination. Maybe this is the challenge imposed by the crab: tear down 
the barrier of ignorance and false appreciations that hinder us in attacking in a rational way.


Magic is useless against the crab

The fight against cancer has not been able to succeed with universal and magic recipes. Successes have been achieved slowly, through decades, gaining knowledge and combining proven prevention and treatment methods against each specific tumor variants. This seems to be the strategy to be followed in the future, adding new strategies arose from knowledge advances in cellular and molecular biology of cancer. Despite big revolutions, any new treatment will be added to the method arsenal available to face this disease, and it is improbable that they will replace every conventional procedures already tested.


Crabs can regenerate any leg or claw if it is lost or severely damaged. Occasionally, they may cut off an extremity themselves, in order to escape from a predator. Like crabs, cancer may regenerate if treatment was only able to cause a partial or temporal effect. A refined strategy of attack should assault the crab in many flanks, tie it up, tear off all the legs at once. Although it may be immortal, this massive attack could deprive it of nutrients, hence dying of starvation.

Cancer is a chronic disease, so the treatment should be very long. It is obvious that diabetes and heart illnesses are obliged to be treated for life and, therefore, patients learn how to live with their effects. In contrast to this, physicians and veterinarians have used short and intensive treatments against patients with cancer, which have total success or failure as a result. Understanding of smallest mechanisms that give the disease the chance to proliferate, have led to, little by little, a more suitable perspective for a chronic illness. Although it may not be possible to cure the patient fast, treatment could likely constrain the illness and soothe the symptoms


¿When should we choose an experimental treatment?

Animals with cancer should first
be treated with any specific method already approved for its type of tumor. This may cure the patient or reduce the disease. In this first moment, any other therapy will only lead to confusion, and, even

worse, this may limit the chance of success of proved treatments, that are reasonably effective. Only if these conventional therapies fail, it may be time to seek for clinical trials of experimental treatments. If so, the owner should sign the full agreement with his/her consent. This studies should be free (money) and approved by public authorities.



Is experimental treatment the same as alternative therapy?

No. An experimental treatment is based on strong anti-cancer evidence, previously obtained from sick animals. This treatments are free (money), and they are guided by a serious and well-designed protocol, which aims to prove the beneficial effects in sick patients. If the effects are demonstrated, this treatment will be added to the existing arsenal against the disease.

On the contrary, alternative therapies include methods and drugs never scientifically proved. Although they are offered by veterinarians, they are conducted without the approval of public authorities or with the owner's consent. Generally they are expensive because the main goal is to earn money, instead of methodically study their therapeutic effects.



When should we suspect that a therapy may not be telling the truth?

When a "magical" therapy is not available in many veterinary clinics and a payment is required, this should be enough to suspect that this is a swindle, although there might be a famous professional or clinic that is backing the method. It is also suspicious if the owner is asked to buy the drug at a specific pharmacy o if the drug is packed in a bottle with home-made labels and without any leaflet. Another key is that they usually ask the owner to sign a confidentiality agreement. If this treatment is approved, it should be public for any owner that wants to apply for it.

If a type of cancer is considered incurable, is there anything that can be done? The answer is Yes. Palliative medicine seeks care of the patient, considering that quality of life may be as important as quantity of life. Occasionally, relief is the only realistic objective that can be offered to a patient with advanced cancer.


Modified from “El desafío del cangrejo – Avances en el conocimiento, prevención y tratamiento del cáncer”.

"Crab's challenge - Advances in cancer knowledge, prevention and treatment"


Author: Daniel F. Alonso, Siglo XXI editores Argentina, 2002.