Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lost his battle against cancer in the wee hours of Tuesday at the age of 58. Known as a self proclaimed ‘humble soldier’, Chavez was known to shun the western countries and fought gallantly for his socialist ideals. He outsmarted his rivals and fought against a coup attempt but the only thing he couldn’t defeat was cancer.
Initially diagnosed with cancer Chavez, never revealed exactly what he was suffering from. After several rounds of treatment, the cancer, thought to be of the pelvis, relapsed. It was speculated that he was suffering from prostate cancer but looking at the type of treatments he was receiving the likelihood seemed dim.
Of cancers that might arise in the pelvis, prostate cancer is the most common type. If he did indeed have prostate cancer, the only type of therapy available is surgery followed by chemotherapy. Surgery in the case of prostate cancer is an option only if the disease is localised within the prostate gland itself. Once the cancer metastasizes, to other organs outside the gland and into the lymph nodes, chemo therapy and radiation therapy are recommended.
The only other cancers that are likely to appear in the pelvis are colon, bladder or kidney cancer, all of which are very severe forms and are known to be quick in killing the patient. On the other hand sarcoma, is likely to behave like cancer of the pelvis, and would require the kind of treatment Chavez was receiving. Doctors say that sarcoma, though slow to progress, never forgives.
Sarcoma derived from the Greek word meaning ‘flesh’ arises from the muscles, blood vessels, lining of the joints, cartilage etc. Also known as the supporting tissues of the body, these structures are important to maintain the integrity of the body and help it to function well. In India nearly 32,500 people are diagnosed with sarcoma, making them more common than organ based tumours like breast cancer, colon or lung cancer. Sarcomas are typically slow growing tumours but are known to be relentless. It is commonly believed that slower growing the tumour, the more difficult they are to treat, while the tumours that grow faster are easier to treat. These cancers commonly occur in the arm or leg and if caught early enough it is treatable with surgery. Chemo therapy, usually has some effect, but often does not cause any long term changes. In the past few years, doctors in the U.S. have tried to develop novel therapies to treat sarcomas. One of the newest techniques is to reduce the size of the tumours using agents that are known to react against the sarcoma. Although this technique is still in the experimental phase it could prove to be potentially lifesaving in the future.
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