Spontaneous remission: When cancer suddenly disappears
Malignant tumors can regress on their own. Many conventional doctors avoid the subject. For patients, however, spontaneous remission is often the last hope.
In the summer of 2014, Stefanie Gleising was at the end of her rope. Four and a half years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, the psychologist had experienced and suffered just about everything that can happen to someone in this situation. Surgeries, radiation and chemotherapies, empathetic and crude doctors, drug intolerances, metastases in the spine, pelvis and brain, the discontinuation of conventional medical treatment and several attempts to defeat the disease with the help of therapists and healers of all kinds.
In the end, when she could no longer walk and was severely emaciated, she decided to go to a hospice to die so as not to overwhelm her family any longer. But she, who had been given only a few days to live, did not die there. Day by day she got better, until after six weeks she was able to leave the hospice practically healthy again.
So far, it has not been studied how often the phenomenon actually occurs
Spontaneous remission is what doctors call a surprising improvement that was not preceded by any treatment, or at least not one that would have been expected to have such an effect. It is unclear how often this happens. While the body’s self-healing powers seem to play a major role in many milder illnesses, they are extremely rarely observed in cancer. Often, from about one case to 100.000 patients.
Herbert Kappauf, who was a practicing oncologist in Starnberg until the beginning of this year and has been one of the few spontaneous remission experts in the German-speaking world for decades, emphasizes that the type of tumor is very important in this case. For example, he puts the probability of such a case in colorectal cancer rather at one in a million, while in renal cell carcinoma it can be one percent or more. Kappauf estimates that only one in ten of the rare cases results in a permanent cure, because in most cases temporary improvements lasting at least four weeks are also counted as spontaneous remissions.
Whenever there is an unexpected decline in symptoms, identifying the healing processes at work could help to gain a complete picture of the disease and its mechanisms, and from this to develop new therapies. For this reason, individual physicians have systematically compiled the spontaneous remission cases that have been reported scattered throughout the literature. They did not have it easy, because with few exceptions, the leading representatives of the field preferred to ignore the "statistical outliers" or explain them with initial misdiagnoses. Until today, most researchers give the phenomenon a wide berth – probably also because it is claimed by healers of all kinds.
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Stefanie Gleising still does not know what defeated her cancer
Stefanie Gleising believes that almost everything she has done to get rid of cancer could have contributed to her remission. Meanwhile, there is also a guess as to what has turned the tide: Hospice focuses on pain management, and for that she was given an opioid similar to the drug substitute "D,L-methadone". This is suspected of being able to destroy cancer cells, provided they have many opioid receptors. However, there are no large-scale studies on this yet. Since the duration of action of the anesthetic varies greatly and dangerous side effects have been observed, even the pharmacritical Arznei-Telegramm therefore still advises against the use of the drug outside of clinical trials.
In order to make unexpected improvements scientifically usable, Kappauf and others have long been calling for a register in which such cases would be recorded in detail in the future according to comparable criteria. He would also like to see a systematic investigation of comparatively frequent cases of spontaneous remission, for example in skin cancer or renal cell carcinoma.
These types of tumors also respond particularly well to immunotherapy, Kappauf says, so it’s conceivable that the antibodies used in the process "to unblock the blocked immune response of tumor cells may also occur spontaneously under certain circumstances". Kappauf also pleads for closer examination of all those cases in which remission does not occur, but the sick live significantly longer than would normally be expected given their condition. For analyses of tumor tissue, molecular genetic testing options are now available that did not exist five years ago.
More than 200 diseases are subsumed under the term cancer
Spontaneous remissions are a heterogeneous phenomenon, Kappauf emphasizes, after all, there are two hundred different diseases that are grouped under the term cancer. In addition to the immune system, he counts anti-angiogenesis, i.e. the inhibition of the formation of new blood vessels necessary for the growth of every tumor, among the most important mechanisms that play a role in this. The body’s own blockade of angiogenesis can be reactivated, for example, by surgery, so that even unremoved remnants of a tumor subsequently regress.
In many books for cancer patients, the role of the right attitude is emphasized – as if it were primarily up to the patient to create the conditions for a cure. Herbert Kappauf, who is also a psychotherapist, has clearly contradicted such simple attributions with the tenor "extraordinary spontaneous remissions happen in cancer patients with an extraordinary personality" in his book "Miracles are possible": "…extraordinary people also die of cancer."
However, it is indisputable that patients can benefit enormously in any case from dealing with the disease, their life goals and the possibility of their death. Because cancer puts many things into perspective, such as everyday problems. The affected person becomes a bit "wise".