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March 16, 2007 – Marc Silver
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March 16, 2007 – Katy Human
Web Exclusive: The Biology of Cancer and Aging
March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
Web Exclusive: Can Liver Cancer Be Found Early?
March 16, 2007 – The American Cancer Society
Web Exclusive: Protection from Health Fraud
March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
Help for the Older Patient
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March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
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March 16, 2007 – Jamie Spencer
Targeted Strike
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The National Cancer Institute's CAM Agenda
March 16, 2007 – Jeffrey D. White, MD
Physical Activity and the Cancer Patient
March 16, 2007 – The American Cancer Society
What Really Helps
March 16, 2007 – Lori Hope
The Age Factor
March 16, 2007 – Charlotte Huff
Men Behaving Boldly
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Liver Cancer: More Cases, More Causes
March 16, 2007 – Jennifer M. Gangloff
Report Incites Controversy After Breast Cancer Decline Linked to HRT Use
March 16, 2007 – Emma Johnson
Prescription for Trouble
March 16, 2007 – Jo Cavallo
What Five Years Really Means
March 16, 2007 – Curtis Pesmen
Hazardous to Your Heart
March 16, 2007 – Jamie Spencer
The Weight Gain Mystery
March 16, 2007 – Noble Sprayberry
Deadly Accuracy
March 16, 2007 – Katy Human
Surfer Wisdom
March 16, 2007 – Mark Lawless
Letters from Our Readers
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Message from the Editor
March 16, 2007 – Melissa Weber
Having a Ball
March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You To Know
March 16, 2007 – Kathy LaTour
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March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
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March 16, 2007 – Anna D. Barker, PhD
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March 16, 2007 – Elizabeth Whittington
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Patient Congress
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Medical Miracle or Spontaneous Remission?

What are the odds that some cancers spontaneously go into remission? 

BY Elizabeth Whittington
PUBLISHED March 16, 2007

It is true that some cancers just disappear. Even after weeding out misdiagnoses, and other probable causes, reports of people whose cancers regress or disappear without treatment or with ineffective treatment are documented throughout history.

Alternative medicine gurus have latched on to anecdotal stories of sporadic remissions.They may convince others that the alternative treatment was the cause of remission. Cases of spontaneous cancer remission, however, are so rare that the medical community as a whole remains skeptical and considers it an anomaly when it does happen. Conservative statistics estimate fewer than 25 cancer patients have true spontaneous remissions each year, a paltry number considering the nearly 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer annually.

Still not a topic widely researched, partly because of its rarity and the difficulty of studying the phenomenon after it occurs, spontaneous remissions and regressions have been mostly documented as individual patient reports. Most of the peer-reviewed medical journal reports on spontaneous remission are case studies describing only one patient.

Studies say up to 10 percent of kidney cancers that spread to the lungs spontaneously regress. Other types of cancer that have seen cases of spontaneous regression include melanoma, lymphoma, basal cell carcinoma and childhood neuroblastoma. Although some spontaneous remissions can last for more than five years—one study puts the number at about a third—most of these cancers recur.

Cases of tumors shrinking or disappearing after an infection and fever have led to the theory that the body’s immune system may play a factor. Other cases of spontaneous remission follow incomplete surgical removal of cancer, possibly disrupting tumor angiogenesis—a process that feeds the tumor.

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