What modern oncology can learn from the most inhospitable and wild environment where humans have been: outer space
That cancer is Evil in a physiologically pure state we have known for almost always. Since we have tools to treat it, we also know that the process is long and hard and leaves patients exhausted physically, psychically and socially.
What we probably didn't know is that the physical stress a cancer patient suffers from undergoing chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy is very similar to that experienced by astronauts during space flight. And this, which seems like two totally disconnected things, may be about to give us a fundamental asset in reducing the long-term impact of treatments on the body.
One of the greatest efforts in the face of enormous physical stress
"It was surprising to realize the similarities between astronauts in space flight and patients undergoing cancer treatment. Both suffer from a decrease in muscle mass, bone demineralization and changes in cardiac function," explained Jessica Scott, an expert in exercise physiology. from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's Exercise Oncology Service.
In fact, the similarities between patients and astronauts came to brain function: "Astronauts often suffer something called space fog, develop concentration and memory problems. Something very similar to what some cancer patients experience and we usually call brain in chemo or chemical mist"Scott continued.
But, once one realizes these reasonable similarities, the most curious thing is the totally divergent way that astronauts and patients prepare. For example, astronauts must exercise before, during, and after the mission, but medical recommendations often indicate rest.
Pulling the thread, Scott and his team began doing small tests to assess the effect of things like basic treadmill exercise (before, during, and after) could help patients undergoing cancer treatments. Based on their very preliminary conclusions, this type of practice could reduce the negative side effects of the therapies (especially heart problems).
As Scott says, much can be learned from NASA's effort to counteract the physical stress of its staff. Today, NASA has technologies that can keep astronauts safely in space for up to 11 months, and that "know-how" can go a long way if it can lead to the world of physical stress caused by treatments.
For now, it is only a line of work and no trials or clinical guidelines have yet been developed to apply what NASA has learned during these last decades to the world of cancer treatments, but this is an example of the collaboration between areas other than human knowledge is a gold mine.
Image | Olu Gbadebo