As a naturally analytical person and a true believer of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and everything else scientific, I usually like explaining phenomenons with science. Sometimes reading stories like the one below though makes me doubt whether it is all about science or there’s something more to it – perhaps luck, circumstances, or just the “meant to be” factor… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell for sure. That’s the beauty of living in a mystery world
In the winter of 2005 Charles Burrows was diagnosed with an inoperable liver cancer and was advised by the doctors to “get his affairs sorted” as he only had 30 days left, maybe 60 if he is lucky. His tumor, the size of a baseball, had already started to strangle the portal vein going into the liver.
Having received this news, Charles quit his job and spent the next 2 month in uncertainty of what was going to happen. In February 2006 he developed a weird illness and got abdominal bloating, nausea, chills and shaking. Not long after that, he noticed the lump on his stomach had disappeared. After through CT scanning and magnetic resonance imaging he was informed that the space where the tumor used to be was now an empty space. This was confirmed by the same doctors who diagnosed him originally as well as by other private practitioners. His cancer did not come back for another 7 years, almost as if to prove wrong the doctors who told him he had 30 days left to live. Because of this, he is featured in a medical journal, which says that “never before in written English history has a recovery such as his been recorded.” Charles himself describes it as winning the lottery.
Spontaneous tumor regressions are amongst the most mysterious events in medicine. Such regressions have been reported mostly with melanoma and kidney cancer but scientists say that the phenomena might as well be an everyday one, taking place beyond doctors’ eyes. Interestingly, recent studies suggest that 1 in 3 breast tumors could disappear on their own before even being detected by a doctor.
The question is why some people “win the lottery” and others don’t. Is it just a matter of luck or does it have a scientific explanation? They say one factor in this is one’s immune system, which has the great ability to switch into high gear and protect the body by attacking cancer. In Charles’s case, his regression appeared together with his strange illness. One theory is that his immune system got activated in such a way that it started fighting not only the infection from the disease but also the cancer itself. Such theories around the power of the immune system have been debated for centuries and many scientists still remain unconvinced. Several studies of similar cases however are showing hints of what the immune system might be capable of doing if we harness it. Interestingly, research data suggests that the immune system could be able to sometimes combat cancer. Rober Schreiber, immunologist at Washington University School of Medicine says that “To the body, a tumor looks like the biggest bacteria it has ever seen”.
The question of whether Charles’s tumor disappeared due to his immune system combating it or due to something else remains open. It is a fact though that the 30 day prognosis underestimated the power of the human body. I tend to thinks it underestimated the power of the human mind as well. And who knows, maybe the power of something external we are not even aware of.