Wilson Cancer Update 5  - June, 2010
Metastasis (Greek: displacement, μετά=next + στάσις=placement, plural: metastases), or metastatic disease (sometimes abbreviated mets), is the spread of a disease from one organ or part to another non-adjacent organ or part.  

Cancer usually starts in a particular place in the body and then it sends off little offstpring that inhabit other systems.  Eventually this is how most Cancer overwhelms the body.  The outlaws spread and hijack what they can.

I asked Dr. Jahan, my UCSF oncology research doctor, why did cancers spread liket that.  His answer was "happy feet".  Quite a delightful answer to a troubling question. I guess the latin would be pedus felicitas.  Click the arrow to see the processes of metastasis at work
My cancer started in the lung and then metastasized to the bones.  I had no sign of any problem when it was in the lung. By the time I had "bone mets" it was stage 4 and impossible to cure surgically because it had spread throughout the body.

Pragmatic warning:  If you suspect anything pursue it.  This is why breast cancer has such a better survival rate now.. People catch it early and have it surgically removed before it can metastsize

This is a good news/bad news tale


Hear a good news sound

Once metastasis has set in, there is rarely a cure.  Mostly treatment is focused on scanning the body for new cancer outbreaks and trying to temporarily stop or slow them. CT scans are used every few months. 
ct scanner
The last 6 months of ct scans have  showed all organ systems clear of new cancer activity.  The chemo and alternative treatments seem to be doing their job of slowing metastasis.  This is considered a great outcome.


Mystery   -  even though the CT scans were clear, the CEA blood marker for tumor activity was going up each time it was read.  5 - 15 -30- 45 - 60 - 80......  5 is normal - not any tumor activity. Why?

The doctor ordered a brain MRI.  (The CT scans can't read ithe brain.)

Hear a bad news sound

The MRI brain scan showed 5 very small mm sized tumors - a somewhat scary outcome.  The chemotherapy does not cross the brain membrane barrier so it could not work on cancer cells there.

This was one of darker places of dispair I had yet experienced in this saga.  There were cancer cells that no medicine was treating.  It felt like the possible beginning of the downward slope.

Amazingly the doctor said that he would rather have brain tumors  than in the other systems.  The brain tumor radiation procedures are much more advanced.  Tumors elsewhere might well require regular bloody surgery.
steve mri

Time for the
Gamma Knife
The Gamma Knife is a device that can focus extremely high radiation beams precisely at the location of tumors.  The beams pass through other brain tissue without any effect. When it works correctly,  it is a one day outpatient process. The patient can go back to work the next day.
The process depends on precise MRI images that are linked to a titanium armature that is pressure screwed against the head.  Even if the head moves slightly, the computer can adjust the beams to focus at sub millimeter tumors since the armature provides unmoving reference points.

Ironically I have been taeaching students the computer 3d principles for years that underlie this process.
armature  bubble

The process is not comfortable.  They must use gallons of local anesthetic at the locations of screws and it drips for days swelling your eyes and face.  Your head feels like it is pressure compressed for days. There are possbile side effects.  But it beats old style cut-open-the-brain surgery by a mile.

For a few moments I shared a hospital elevator on the day of the procedure with a child on a gurney being moved.  As is my way I tried to make comforting small talk but he retreated in horror to his mother's arm - I forgot what I must have looked like.
man in iron mask
child fear

The doctors think they zapped the five spots and they will be stopped from ever becoming full size tumors.  But they warn there is nothing stopping new tumors from appearing.  We will scan and watch.  If the tumors come slowly, the gamma knife can be applied again.  At some point that process will probably quit working. This gamma knife experience is a moment that combines hope and hopelessness.

Researchers around the world are brilliantly probing every aspect of cancer physiology.  Hopefully they can work quicker than the advancing tumor army.

Life Goes On

Barring any unforseen side effects.  We will be going on Cathy's 60th birthday cruise to the fjords and the midnight sun.
I will be starting teaching again part time in the fall.  I won a small grant to collaborate with a UC Berkeley researcher to create an energy harvesting art piece for the UC Berkeley Art Gallery in September.  A group of SFSU faculty and students are working with me in a research group. 

More information about energy harvesting art project

energy harvesting
My daughter Sophia navigated the labyrinth of college applications.  She is going to UC Davis, studying environmental policy.
uc davis

Previous Cancer Updates

Update 5- steve cancer saga
http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~swilson/stevecancer/cancer5/cancerupdate5.html  (this page)

Update 4- steve cancer saga

Update 3 - steve cancer saga

Update 2 - steve cancer saga

Update 1 - original page

Steve home page  (art works, books, teaching)