Brain cancer and other cancers: questions to ask about treatment

© Dr. Michael D. Jacobson, D.O. Do not reproduce this article without permission.

From the October 2018 issue of Heartfelt Magazine.

A CHM member wrote:

Our son developed a problem with his balance along with vomiting and blurred vision. We found out he had a germinoma brain tumor, which was surgically removed. A follow up MRI showed the surgeon had removed all of it. We have been referred for proton therapy by a pediatric cancer specialist connected with Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

Without outside counsel I hesitate to just go with what we’ve been advised to do and I really don’t know who to be talking to about this. The therapy will probably involve five or six weeks of radiation, five days per week.

Is it ever advisable to go another route? How important is it that he receive radiation after this type of surgery? And if so, how soon should it start? What would you recommend?

Dr. Jacobson’s response:

I’m so sorry for the painful circumstances your family is experiencing. As you probably know by now, your situation is fairly unique amongst brain cancer sufferers in that most pure germinoma tumors respond well to treatment. However, in many cases there are sequelae (complications and side effects) of treatment, such as loss of pituitary gland (and thus hormone) function, etc. In all my years of practice I’ve yet to come across a viable alternative to conventional surgery plus chemotherapy or radiation treatment when it comes to brain tumors, regardless of the type. (Editor’s note: CHM doesn’t share bills for alternative treatment. For more info, see Guideline N.1. Also, see Dr. Jacobson’s two-part series on alternative care in the Dec. 2015 and Jan. 2016 issues of Heartfelt Magazine.)

In general, I recommend:

  1. Get a second opinion from a reputable oncologist or, preferably, a “Center of Excellence” with respect to that particular cancer (i.e. Boston Children’s Hospital appears to treat many cases of germinoma). I would also consider a consultation with Mayo Clinic in Rochester. However, keep in mind that Barnes Jewish is considered one of the leading U.S. hospitals overall. (Editor’s note: These mentions of specific healthcare providers should not be considered endorsements by Dr. Jacobson or CHM.)
  2. Regardless of cancer type, I often encourage patients and their families to ask the specialist several questions to objectify their recommendations. For example:
  • What is the actual diagnosis?
  • What stage is the cancer?
  • What is the prognosis (for life, complications, etc.) if I (or my loved one) follows your recommendations?
  • What is the prognosis if the patient does nothing?
  • What other options are there and are there any you consider valid?

3. Above all, pray, not only as a parent and a family, but also as the biblical writer James advised (asking your church’s elders to pray for your son).

Though the following passage seems to tie physical illness in with sin, the Bible points to several other reasons why someone may become ill: for character development, for God’s glory or simply because we live in a fallen world with imperfect bodies. Regardless of the root cause, I think it’s wise to consider the advice given in James 5:14-16:

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:14-16 KJV)

By the way, the New Testament Greek has two words that in English are translated as the word “anoint.” One of them is used exclusively for ceremonial purposes, whereas the other (aleipho) can refer to the application of an ointment (i.e. medical treatment) for illness. The Greek word used in this passage is the latter, so James may be encouraging believers to seek both prayer and appropriate medical care.

May the Lord bless you and be with your son and family.

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