Day and Night Pharmacy – Cancer Cells

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Cancer is a specialist area and I will restrict what I write to my knowledge of the pharmacology of cancer drugs- how the drugs work to try to fight this dreaded disease and how associated side effects are precipitated- using language that will not annoy you.  I usually spin my articles to give you something to smile about but I don’t think I can come up with any humorous way to tackle this topic. Cells are the smallest biological units that make up body organs. In basic terms, cancer is a condition in which otherwise normal cells have lost their bearing and start multiplying (often rapidly) beyond their normal boundaries.

The phrase used scientifically is ‘rapidly dividing cells’ because cells multiply by opening up (dividing) their two-strand spiral staircase-like genetic material- DNA. So the spiral separates vertically in the middle of the stairs into two corresponding halves which each quickly rebuilds a replacement strand so that we end up with two full identical spiral staircases in two cells. The process repeats itself over and over again such that (for simplicity) what started as a single cell soon becomes 2 ,then 4, then 16, then 256 growing like that. In Maths that’s like leaps of square roots which is a frightening rate of growth that needs immediate medical attention otherwise it will soon become unmanageable.

This is why early diagnosis is crucial.  Most drugs used in cancer treatment (chemotherapy) are designed to target rapidly dividing cells, using that feature to distinguish them from normal cells. Therefore these drugs inhibit cell division by various means eg blocking or confusing cell staircase (DNA) reassembly. Unfortunately there are normal cells in the human body that by their nature rapidly divide, for instance hair follicles and the bone marrow. This explains the dreadful side  effects like hair loss and suppression of immunity associated with chemotherapy. Most current drugs cannot distinguish between cancerous cells and normal cells thus they stop hair growth and production of cells that protect us from infections with the same shotgun that is meant to kill the bad cells.!

Not all hope is lost though because there are newer innovative drugs that are being investigated which exploit more subtle differences between bad and normal cells to avoid the shotgun approach, for example  drugs that interfere with the communication between cancer cells or those that target specific cell markers which are only found on cancer cells.

There are already drugs in current use which work by blocking hormones known to encourage cancerous growth such as those used to prevent the return of breast cancer or prostate cancer.

One of these drugs, tamoxifen, was recently in the news creating much excitement as it was being propagated as a ‘new wonder drug for breast cancer’ by some ill-informed journalists (as they often are, when it comes to medical and paramedical news). The drug is certainly not new and has been used by many women over many years.    Generally there is hope for now and the future. As our knowledge of cancer cells increases cleaner treatment options will widen and effectiveness will improve.

This column is dedicated to one of our patients who used to live in Cross Gates but now travels all the way from Tadcaster to use Day and Night Pharmacy. She was recently diagnosed with a form of cancer. To her and all who have recently been diagnosed with this disease I say, Words fail me; please stay positive and summon the strength to carry on.  May God bless you.

Yours Medicinally, Abel Kubare,    

Superintendent Pharmacist Day & Night Pharmacy

 

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A RECENT COMMENT ABOUT US POSTED ON NHS WEBSITE

No fault, no shortage of med’s, very professional and customer friendly,will draw your attention to anything you have been prescribed if it gives them cause for concern. Very vigilant. Top Class.!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Steven O'Keefe says:

    Something we’ve nearly all had a brush with in one way or another. Thanks for explaining a few things I never understood when my Dad was ill. This column is fascinating, well done to Abel & East Leeds Mag.

  2. What a fantastic article. It’s made more sense to me than the Oncologist did when treating my husband.

  3. Barry O'Hare says:

    Sad but well done Abel for writing it.

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