Letter from Prague
Anyone listening to Radio Prague over the past couple weeks will have heard some new voices - one of which is mine. Since starting at Radio Prague I have focused my pieces, more or less, on scientific issues. And, what I have quickly realized is the Czech medical and research field is a lot more advance than I had previously thought. To my surprise, however, the Czech media leaves aside many of the more conventional issues and instead tens to focus on the more dubious research endeavors - for, I guess, they make for more interesting stories.
One of the more popular stories in the headlines of late is that of 'devitalization'. This previously explored cancer treatment has recently resurfaced in the Czech Republic as a novel cancer therapy. The method is based on the concept of surgically cutting off the blood supply, which feeds malignant tumors, thereby depriving them of oxygen and nutrients. This results in the tumor growth slowing down and finally tumor cell death.
The concept appears logical, but from the beginning, medical experts have warned that many problems connected with the treatment remained unresolved. Treatment has been successful in animal testing but there has been no such proof in humans. Despite conflicting international expert opinion this method received approval to go into clinical trial earlier this year in the Czech Republic. And the Czech papers wrote of miraculous outcomes. However, only months after they began, the clinical trials were abruptly cancelled due to poor results. The physician in charge of the trials blamed the poor outcome on the patient's end stage status and not on the method's inefficacy. But, normally clinical trials are performed only on terminally ill patients and only as a last resort option. To choose an early stage patient group would mean these people would not receive full traditional treatment, treatment that is proven to work. On top of the less than successful results found here, in the past foreign researchers proved that cutting the blood supply to the main blood vessels feeding the tumor doesn't help the patient. In fact, metastatic growth has been found to increase if this blood supply is severed. What worries me is that Czech newspapers continue to cover this story and don't always report it with skepticism, feeding the hope that a novel cancer treatment has been developed.
For me, the most troublesome aspect of this situation is the headlines which describe it as a novel cancer treatment and one can only hope that a patient's physician would set inform his or her patient of all the ins and outs of the treatment. But informed consent isn't a law here in the Czech Republic. It is very possible that after visiting your physician and asking them how to treat your cancer, if in fact they've actually explained your illness to you, could send you home with no answers to your health queries. I find it remarkable that physicians in the Czech Republic, in contrast to many Western nations, are not legally expected to inform their patients of their medical condition or treatment. And in that context, I really do hope, Czechs read medical headlines with a large grain of salt.