Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Big C

I've been spending a lot of time recently in the bone marrow transplant clinic. Fortunately, it's not because I have leukemia- I'm on the donor end of things. I signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program back when I was in college, and I came up for a match for someone that I've never met. Fortunately, it's being done with a non-invasive procedure, so my own recovery should be quite quick. No pelvis-drilling surgery for me!

This did put me to thinking, though, about how far we've come in the treatment of cancer. I have a wonderful "Atoms for Peace" propaganda film made in the Soviet Union in 1955 that contains great footage of early Soviet efforts to treat cancer with nuclear technology. I'm planning on uploading it, but I don't have the software to convert the file into something YouTube will accept. On one hand, the "War on Cancer" has been a huge disappointment. Futurists in the 1960s tended to believe that the scourge of cancer would be eradicated by now, and this was even declared an official goal in 1971. This ambitious aim has obviously eluded researchers. But it overshadows the enormous progress that has been made in cancer treatment.

Take the leukemia patients in the marrow transplant clinic. Before WWII, leukemia was a death sentence; no workable treatment existed. Studies of the radiation injuries resulting from the atomic bombings in Japan led researchers to study full-body radiation therapy as a potential cure. Of course, this was of no use without workable marrow transplants. It took decades of research to transform this procedure into a safe, effective treatment. Today, many forms of leukemia are quite treatable- a huge improvement over the old days.

Indeed, we need to do more to remind people of the countless lives that have been saved by nuclear technology. For every overblown "disaster" like Three Mile Island, there are thousands upon thousands of people whom the friendly atom has saved from an early grave. Despite the potential of nuclear power, medicine is the sphere where nuclear technology that has done the most good for mankind. We may not have "cured cancer," but we can cure some cancers- and in that sense, one of the dreams of the Atomic Age has come to pass.


DV8 2XL said...

Good for you for doing your bit and signing up, more should do just that.

BTW it's not just radiotherapy we need nuclear medicine for. One third of all patients admitted to U.S. hospitals undergo diagnostic procedures that employ radioactivity. In addition, 100 million radio-immunoassay tests are done annually, and 60,000 patients get radiation therapy for cancer.

And I have to ask: Is that video the one that ends in a dramatic climax when radiation therapy erases a disfiguring tumor from a child's face? If so it's a good one.

Sovietologist said...

Thanks. The section on nuclear medicine does end with the disfiguring tumor bit, but the film goes on for a good 20 minutes after that, including footage of the first Soviet NPP. Very interesting stuff.

DV8 2XL said...

OK, then I guess I've only seen an excerpt of a larger work.

Sovietologist said...

Well, there may be a second film using the same footage. I really wish I could upload it; I just don't have software that will do the job.

Rod Adams said...


What is the format of your current film? I have quite a bit of capacity for video conversion from one digital format to another and even have the capability to convert analog into digital.

Let me know if I can help.

Rod Adams

Sovietologist said...

It was copied from a tape using one of those DVD/VCR combo machines, and as a result it's in .vob format. Do you have a way to do something with this? I think I also have a VHS copy lying around that I made at the National Archives a few years ago- that's where I got it in the first place.