In this day and age should there be a new definition of cured of cancer? I'm not sure. I have friends who tell me they are cured. I try to figure out what they are talking about. Seriously, where did this cured business come from? I want to question their position on this but in some ways do not want to know.
"Upon completion of treatment, one of only two scenarios exist. Either all cancer cells are annihilated by surgery, chemo or radiation never to return or some of the little cells escaped and plan to mount a future counteroffensive. The trouble is that technical limitations thwart our ability to measure small volumes of cancer cells. Blood work, imaging like PET scans and CT scans or physical exams are simply too crude at present to predict, always and accurately, whether cancer will recur. And so, like Schrodinger’s cat experiment, a quiet cat placed in an opaque box is assumed to be both alive and dead at the same time. You just don’t know. Likewise, cancer cells after treatment are assumed dead, but we go on testing to discover any signs that the disease may have returned. CT scans. Blood work. Physical exams. Ad nauseum. Only time will tell."
So as good patients we go to our doctors for years and do what they say. But we know we are not cured.
"A couple caveats here. First, we generally observe patients for five years. After that point, for most diseases, the curves are flat, meaning that we anticipate few further cancer deaths. Thus, the doctor’s five-year survival is equivalent to a layperson’s “cure.” So when docs uncomfortably utter the word “cure," it’s usually after five years from diagnosis. At that time, we generally feel confident that the disease is gone. Secondly, these are dry boring statistical models. So we know where the group will plot out. Each individual patient, however, that’s another story.
Early on, we don’t know, with any certainty, who will be cured. That’s where the term “remission” comes in: when there’s no sign of any cancer, but it is still too early to tell. When the clock strikes 12 on the fifth anniversary of your diagnosis, voila, “remission” magically transforms to “cure.” Sort of like a reverse Cinderella moment.
And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly in a time of rapidly evolving treatments, all published data is at least five years out of date because you have to wait that that long to collect the data following the treatment performed. Treatment options change a lot during five years."
Five years out are we cured? No we are not. So we stop going to our doctors and promise to come back if anything changes.
And even though we know all of the above, there are still a few more caveats.
"Finally, outliers exist. Unfortunately, patients with early-stage disease can recur and die and those with late-stage disease can outlive their predicted expiration date."
So what do we do? We are supposed to live life as if we are cured. We are supposed to like our new normal. But we are not cured and at this point have no chance of being cured. We can just be happy with remission free survival and no evidence of disease. But not a cure.