A serial cheat and liar he may be after his confession on the Oprah Winfrey show, but there’s no denying he’s a cancer survivor. In this blog entry, I would like to elaborate on what he suffered from – cancer of the testes with spread to the brain and lungs – and the chances of survival in patients with this condition.
In October 1996, after delaying seeing a doctor and after his testes had swollen up to three times the normal size( he was also coughing up blood), he finally sought a medical consultation which confirmed that he had advanced stage three testicular cancer, of the subtype embryonal carcinoma. Worse, the cancer had already spread to the lungs and brain. Immediate surgery was done to remove the diseased testicle as well as the satellite tumors in the brain. Subsequently, chemotherapy, an essential part of the two-step treatment, was planned.
Here, instead of the standard chemotherapeutic regimen (the BEP regime), he opted for one (the VIP regime) which did not contain the drug bleomycin, which has toxic effects on the lungs and would probably have meant that his cycling career would have been finished. The course of chemotherapy finished in December 1996, and in February 1997, he was declared cancer-free, which he apparently remains to this day.
An interesting fact to note is that, prior to the surgery, he had already won two Tour de France titles. Following the cancer treatment, he was recruited by US Postals, resumed training, and was able to win the Tour de France every year from 1999 till 2005, when he officially retired.
Quite an amazing feat, even if it was tainted by the use of performance-enhancing substances. I would be hesitant to call them drugs, as the alleged substances involved (EPO, testosterone , human growth hormone, corticosteriods and blood transfusions) are all part of normal body constituents.
So, is what Armstrong the cancer survivor experiencing something out of the ordinary? Unknown to many, testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers – in excess of 90 percent overall; almost 100 percent if it has not spread elsewhere. Even if the cancer had spread widely, as in Armstrong’s case, the cure rate is over 80% following chemotherapy. Indeed, it is the most common form of cancer in males aged 20-39 years.
- Editorial: Lance Armstrong, world-class liar (denverpost.com)
- Zero Worship: Did Surviving Cancer Make Armstrong a Hero? (psychologytoday.com)
Come August, one of the more popular activities worldwide will be watching,directly or indirectly, the greatest sports event in the world. Already, concerns have been raised about the air pollution in Beijing, with the Australian contingent reportedly delaying their arrival till just before their respective events, thereby giving the opening ceremony a miss.
To their credit, the Chinese authorites have spared no effort in ensuring that the skies will be clear. Some of the measures include allowing cars ending with even numbers on their registration plate to be permitted on the roads on even dates. This enables 1 million vehicles to be off the road at any given day!
One of the potentially explosive health issues which will involve the athletes is the question of doping. Already, during the Sydney 2000 Olympics, some high-profile athletes were caught using prohibited performance-enhancing drugs.
The most highly-publicised case was that of sprinter Marion Jones who was finally banned, jailed for 6 months (she is currently serving her term) and asked to return the 5 Olympic medals which she won in 2000.
Usage of performance-enhancing drugs is by no means confined to the Olympics as professional athletes have been caught in other sports as well.
However, I predict the Olympics will be a real testing-ground for two drugs whose usage is steeped in controversy on many counts.
The first is HGH (human growth hormone) which builds strength, bone density and endurance, minus the side-effects of steroids like what was used by Marion Jones. It is difficult to detect by conventional doping tests because it is a naturally-occuring substance in the body and, more important, can be withdrawn well before the event without any apparent untoward effects and therefore avoid detection.
The other performance-enhancer is EPO (erythropoietin) which is also a naturally occuring hormone that causes increased production of red blood cells in the body, thereby increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood to the muscle tissues. Its like using high-octane petrol to boost your engine. The detection of EPO is complicated by the lack of accuracy of the current test methods. Marion Jones was tested positive at the Sydney Olympics but subsequently declared negative on the second test.