Thursday, January 5, 2012

Eric Kostelich on Chaos Theory and Brain Tumors

Interesting interview over at Boing Boing, about chaos theory, forecasting seemingly chaotic systems, and how that applies to brain cancer.  Not the most pleasant read for someone with brain cancer as they take special care to emphasize how deadly and untreatable it is, but fascinating as long as you don't expect them to pull any punches.

It seems that Kostelich thinks with enough research we could forecast what a cancer will do in the same way we forecast the weather.  That could have a profound impact on "accuracy-by-volume" treatments like radiation, as instead of treating everything within 2cm of identified cancer they could only treat the area where the cancer's expected to spread next.

My understanding, and from personal experience with a family member, is that you're right, this isn't going to cure cancer in general or glioblastoma specifically. But one of the real goals of treatment is to help patients live as well as possible for as long as possible. The age of highest incident for the type of brain cancer we studied is between 40 and 65. If this result allows you to live two months longer than you otherwise would maybe that makes the difference between seeing your daughter get married or not. We can't prevent the inevitable, but we might help them live better or longer. If we can develop good enough mathematical models and be able to tell patients that going through another round of chemo isn't likely to help, then they can decide to spend that time with family instead of in the hospital. That's beneficial in it's own way. - Eric Kostelich

Can't argue with that.

Still, if they get as good at forecasting cancer as they are at forecasting weather, I think the best they could do is tell me I probably don't have cancer and that my core temperature will be in the 90's all week.


  1. I still do not understand how come that nobody has found a cure, yet...:(

  2. Oh, lots of reasons. Each cancer acts in its own special, horrible way, and each one is technically part of the host's body, and resist the immune system for whatever reason. Every breakthrough is just another tool in a toolbox.

    But don't sell those tools short, L. We've come up with a whole lot of them in recent years, including some really good ones. We'll find a cure. Every day we're a little bit closer.