The Squamous Chronicles, part deux: Into the beam we go.

My adventure with Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma, HNSCC, soon enters a third phase.  A week from this writing I’ll don my custom prepared plastic mesh mask and they’ll strap me onto an x-ray machine. Oh yes, one other thing. There’ll be a weekly dose of cis-platin coincident with irradiation. Turns out that there is a synergistic effect with radiation and platinum poisoning cis-platin chemotherapy. No doubt it is related to the fact that platinum is a heavy atom with a lot of electron density ripe for scattering. Platinum ligated to DNA during irradiation is a bonus as well I suppose. Your own DNA as a ligand for platinum. A funny thought for someone in the catalyst business.

The first phase was the identification of a swollen lymph node and its subsequent removal from its cozy perch on my right carotid artery. Here I learned first hand why cancer is destructive. Mutant squamous cells from some molecular-genetic train wreck are washed away from their birthplace to lodge in distant locations. In my case, the aloof cells got hung up in a lymph node. There, they invaded the node and proliferated to the point where much of the lymphatic tissue became necrotic, likely from blood starvation. The node was not especially painful. Well, until the biopsy needle went in. Then it became very, very angry. But I digress.

The second phase, post surgery, was the adventure of finding suitable oncologists. This is a little bewildering. It is easy to get overwhelmed by information. I went for a second opinion and soon thereafter chose the Anschutz Cancer Center at the University of Colorado in Aurora. I’ve already had medical students and residents sitting in on consultations and exams.  The medical oncologist is a research professor specializing in head and neck cancer. He sees patients on Fridays too. The radiation oncologist sees a lot of HNSCC and seems knowledgeable and confident.

More to follow.

About gaussling

Gaussling is a senior scientist in the chemical business. He occasionally breaks glassware and has been known to generate new forms of hazmats. Gaussling also digs aerospace, geology, and community theatre. View all posts by gaussling

9 responses to “The Squamous Chronicles, part deux: Into the beam we go.

  • Around the Corner and Down the Hall

    Be sure to ask them how they did in organic chemistry…

    Good luck, I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Chemjobber

    Still rooting for you. Best wishes.

  • Tom

    The synergetic effect between cis-platin and X-Rays isn’t a reaction between the platinum and the X-Rays but more to do with the cis-platin placing the tumor cells in a particularly more vulnerable cell cycle state. The DNA intercalation between the platinum compound, damages their replication. The X-Rays further damage the cell cycling mechanism making the “rouge” cells die better. Most cells have mechanisms for coping with one or another type of damage. Using ionizing radiation and an intercalator together in this case result in more tumor cell kill yield, since tumor cells turn over faster than normal cells.

    I once worked on a project were we were looking for compounds that would actually enhance the effect of ionizing radiation that we hoped would make cancer cells more susceptible to X-Ray irradiation while sparing normal cells. Compounds that would hopefully be more readily taken up by the tumors due to their more rapid growth, and that would themselves undergo chemistry that would potentiate creation of reactive species. We did manage to make a few that appeared to help in our mouse models but they never progress out of preclinical tests, for one reason or another. Likely because we couldn’t really tell what was going on, and the enhancement wasn’t as good as we had hoped.

    An area of interest I personally had was Boron containing drugs selectively absorbed by tumors and then hit with soft neutrons. (BNCT therapy) The main problem with this type of therapy, was selective uptake of Boron, and easily available source of neutrons. One usually needed a research reactor near by. Finally the rather shallow penetration of soft neutrons made it really only good for certain types of cancers. I had understood that in one example a fellow had his liver removed after infusion of a boronated amino acid. The liver treated down the hall at a reactor, and then replaced back in the patient! Though in this case I don’t think it afford a cure. It did extend the patients life from what I understand. Literally the tumor cells get torn apart as the interaction creates a couple of charged species and He which tears the cancer cell apart. Usually there is approximately a 3 fold greater uptake of boron in tumors vs normal cells if I remember correctly. There had been for a few years many folks attempting to find ways to increase the amount of Boron in tumor cells via new types of Boron containing compounds, for selective absorption, as well as methods to carry Boron more specifically to tumors via via physiochemical means (micelle encapsulation, and release in tumor cells environment etc.) Unfortunately this line of research seems to have more or less died out in recent years. I believe mostly because of a lack of neutron sources being available for research, and patients.

    One thing you may ask your oncologist is if the tumor has been genetically profiled. That may lead to the addition of cell signaling inhibitors that might also have synergetic effects as well. Lots of new things coming down the pike, where inhibitors of cell signaling pathways that are out of control, can be some what tamed. Nice thing about oncologists. They really like to mix up their chemotherapy cocktails. So as soon as something gets approved for one type of cancer its soon tried on others, often with good result.

    Good luck!

    • gaussling

      Thank you so much for the comments! I appreciate the time you took do write this. You can see how sometimes basic principles aren’t enough to make a good guess. I am lacking the data to babble accurately. \;-)

      • Tom

        No problem. I spent 20 years in Big Pharma mostly doing anti-cancer drug research, and some cardiovascular research. Yes – I made drugs but when asked told people they didn’t want to have to take them if they could help it. When creating new potential drug entities one tends to learn about the disease’s that the drugs are to target. I am not an MD, a PhD, or Pharmacist, just a simple heterocyclic synthesis chemist, that built new molecules. I however do know quite a lot about some drugs and therapies. I worked for a time making ligands for bis-Platinum complexes, working with a couple of inorganic chemists. One was the inventor of Carboplatin, which is one of several platinum complexes used in oncology.

        Stay positive. That is the main thing.

  • Philip Rakita

    Having successfully undergone radiation treatment for early stage prostate cancer some six years ago (all well so far), I am following your posts with great interest and hope for a successful outcome for you.

    There is so much about the interaction of chemistry and biology (and medicine) that we are still in the early stages of learning about.

    All the best.


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