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Cancer Treatment

If too much of a good thing is always a bad thing, then perhaps that is sometimes a good thing!
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(+9, -3)
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Remember this is the HalfBakery, and any suggestion with a title like you see above should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Okay, researchers have for decades been seeking a "magic bullet", a drug that will kill cancer cells without killing ordinary cells, which are basically just like cancer cells except they are more self-controlled. No wonder they call that drug "magic"!

In actual practice, see, the anti-cancer drugs that are currently used are all quite toxic to most of the cells in a body -- but they are MORE toxic to cancer cells, and so the notion is that the cancer cells will die while the rest of the body merely becomes very sick (with weight loss, hair loss, and all those other side-effects you've heard about).

What MIGHT be an acceptable alternative is some sort of toxin that kills everything in its vicinity for a short time, and then deactivates. (See annotation by [st3f] about "local chemotherapy".) So even if you lose some normal cells in the vicinity of a cancer, injecting this "bullet" into the midst of a cancerous lump should exterminate the cancer and leave the rest of the body healthy. Unfortunately, most toxic things stay toxic after doing their work, so this sort of cancer treatment doesn't get as much press as whole-body treatments.

Nevertheless, I have stumbled upon a notion which might qualify! The Magic Bullet I am proposing is.....

{drum roll, please}

A large grain of salt!

Seriously. Ordinary table salt, sodium chloride, has some very interesting properties that might just fit the bill. Let's pretend we have just inserted, as suggested above, a large grain of salt into a cancerous lump. What is going to happen?

(Okay, I agree that some local anesthetic might be a Good Idea; "rubbing salt into a wound" is a famously painful cliche`, after all.)

First, dry salt is a very "hygroscopic" substance. It strongly attracts water from its surroundings. This property, in fact, is why salt has been used for centuries as a very good preservative for food, against bacterial assault. The salt steals the water from inside the bacteria and kills them! And for a large grain placed inside an equally cellular assailant, a cancerous lump, it can be expected to do exactly the same thing.

Second, as the salt starts to dissolve in the water it attracts, a very briny solution will be the result. Your ordinary medical "saline solution" (about 1% salt) is nothing like this. Even the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and the Dead Sea in Israel, are not this salty. Initially, it probably is even saltier than the brine used to preserve food, which means it is still toxic to the cells it encounters. These cells, of course, are still inside that cancerous lump. The net effect is that, as the salt crystal dissolves, the brine seeps into the surrounding tissue and kills more than just the immediately adjacent cells.

Third, the longer any bit of salt persists in the body, the farther it travels from its source-crystal and the more it will become diluted in the ordinary fluids of the body. There IS a point below which a concentration of ordinary table salt is non-toxic!

Thus IN THEORY, The Proper Way To Implement This Idea is to measure the size of the cancer that is being targeted, and to insert an appropriately-sized salt crystal. As the crystal dissolves it kills that cancer and only a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue, before becoming diluted to ordinary harmlessness. And not magic, at all!

Vernon, Jun 05 2006

Cesium chloride and cancer http://alternativec.../cesiumchloride.htm
[ldischler, Jun 05 2006]

Intratumoral hypertonic saline http://www.ajronlin...tent/full/184/1/212
It looks like the Taiwanese were thinking along these same lines. [bungston, Jun 21 2006]


       If a cancer is contained and localised then it's probably operable. Then again, if it's deep, inserting a toxin may be easier than accurately removing tissue.   

       [googles "local chemotherapy".]   

       Sounds like this is an already established technique (albeit with substances other than table salt). [+] anyway, for the thought.
st3f, Jun 05 2006

       [st3f], thanks for the info on local chemotherapy. I'll modify the main text a bit, to reflect that.
Vernon, Jun 05 2006

       The problem with chemo is not what substance to use - it is how to deliver it!   

       If a single tumour is localised then fine, inject sodium chloride into it... but I doubt that a high enough concentration of salt will dilute quickly enough to make it safe for normal tissue.   

       But most cancers are not so isolated that a direct injection of a substance will be inneffective. You have to flood the system that surrounds the wayward tissue, even in a successful ressection. You can't do that with salt.
Jinbish, Jun 05 2006

       You might want to try the reverse: inject deionized water, which will cause cells to swell by osmosis until they explode.
ldischler, Jun 05 2006

       [Jinbish], Obviously a suggestion like this needs to be tested experimentally (that's what lab animals are for, after all), to see if it is actually effective as theory implies, AND to find out what size of salt crystal to inject. Perhaps placing several smaller crystals would work better (more surface area exposed = faster dissolving time).   

       [ldischler], there's a thing called "metastasis", in which cells from a cancer lump leave the scene to go elsewhere in the body, to make more lumps. It seems to me that the more fluid in their vicinity, the more easily they can do that. Meanwhile, the salt crystal robs fluid from their vicinity....
Vernon, Jun 05 2006

       The Gerson therapy involves (in part) _reducing_ sodium to an almost dangerously low level. One explanation I have heard is that this reduces the potential rate of cell division, by slowing the osmotic inflow of water needed to increase cell size before and after division. Thus cancerous cells are not directly destroyed, but their proliferation is slowed. The immune system then has a better chance of fighting the cancer.   

       It's a controversial treatment, but an acquaintance of mine followed it instead of taking chemotherapy and is alive and well 8 years later, to the surprise of his doctor. What is more, his wife, who followed the same regime to provide moral support, was cured of her cronic migraines.   

       I'd be the first to say that this proves nothing, but it's interesting nonetheless.
spidermother, Jun 05 2006

       If there's just the one tumour, and you can get access to it, then you have more options than just sticking salt in it. It's when it has metastasized that you really have a problem. Tumours in places you can't find.   

       I see two problems, linked to each other. Firstly, if we model the flow of salt as diffusion that is equal in all directions, then the "treatment" will just kill all cells within a sphere. Your tumour is unlikely to be spherical, so you're going to take out more of, say, your liver than you intended.   

       The second problem is that you won't get a nice equal diffusion. The salt will get into the tumour's blood supply at toxic concentration. What do we know about the system of veins and arteries? The place they take you fastest is your heart. I promise you, the patient's heart is gonna see a lethal concentration of sodium long before the tumour does.   

       Edit: A brief visit to Wikipedia suggests that the lethal concentration of potassium chloride is only 5mmol/l. Sodium chloride is chemically very similar and can be assumed to be dangerous at similar levels. That concentration equates to about 3g in a patient's bloodstream.
david_scothern, Jun 05 2006

       [david scothern], those are pretty good points. I certainly agree that one of the reasons whole-body treatments take the spotlight is because so many cancers get caught after metastasis. I do wonder, though, if MRI scans are up to finding all the subsidiary tumors these days. Of course ACCESSING them all could still be a big problem.   

       Regarding the spherical diffusion, I agree with your point, but to me this just means we have another reason to use multiple smaller crystals (spread throughout the tumor). It could also be a reason for more than one salt-injection, a few days apart. Obviously we want to minimize the damage to healthy tissue!   

       Next, your notion of a lethal concentration reaching the heart seems to depend on several factors that may not all be true. (A) what percentage of the injected salt has how-quickly entered the bloodstream? (B) The entry point into the bloodstream will usually be capillaries; how much dilution will have occured when all the other capillaries feeding the bloodstream are taken into account before the salt reaches the heart? (C) Just how much salt are you imagining being used? One cubic centimeter of salt weighs 2.165 grams as a pure crystal, and only half that in granulated form. I doubt very highly that a tumor having a couple cubic centimeters of volume needs anywhere near a cubic centimeter of salt to be adversely affected. (D) Why do we so-seldom hear about people who died of salt poisoning, after eating too many peanuts, potato chips, popcorn, etc (salt from stomach to bloodstream)? The implication is that the body can tolerate rather more sodium than potassium.   

       I should mention that one reason I posted this Idea is because even though it doesn't take away the medical costs of finding and assaulting tumors, the cost of the actual drug (salt, along with, say, some Novocaine), if it works, could make the overall treatment much more affordable.
Vernon, Jun 05 2006

       //First, dry salt is a very "hygroscopic" substance.//
This depends on the salt. Calcium chloride is hygroscopic, but sodium chloride is not. For killing cancer cells, you might want to try cesium chloride, which kills them by an altogether different process.

Here are the LD50s for several salts (intravenous/mouse):

NaCl: 645 mg/kg
CaCl2: 42 mg/kg
KCl: 117 mg/kg
CsCl: 910 mg/kg
ldischler, Jun 05 2006

       [ldischler], perhaps I should retract the "very", but salt is still hygroscopic, and always has been. Granulated pure salt clumps because of the moisture it extracts from humid air; the Morton Salt Company became BIG, with a famous motto, because of its additive to salt, that prevents clumping. We would not be using such impure salt in a cancer treatment!   

       Thanks for the Lethal Dose data, though; I see that the body is indeed a lot more tolerant of sodium than potassium.   

       Your cesium chloride suggestion is interesting. I see it is hygroscopic also, so, if it is less lethal chemically than sodium chloride, it might indeed be worth planting crystals of the stuff into a tumor, for even more ways to kill it!
Vernon, Jun 05 2006

       you may also want to investigate delequescent substances.
xenzag, Jun 05 2006

       Absolute ethanol has many of these same properties and is sometimes used to treat localized liver tumors. The salt idea is intriguing. One could combine it with epinephrine to decrease local blood flow and give the salt longer to work before it is washed away. One problem with the salt is that it will attract water, causing the tumor to swell.
bungston, Jun 20 2006

       [bungston], you are assuming that cells which the salt has killed (by absorbing water from them) will in turn absorb more water from farther away. But if the cells are dead, is that likely? Also, are you assuming more salt than is really needed, to kill a local tumor? Aren't most of them fairly small?
Vernon, Jun 20 2006

       If this were a viable treatment and I did have, oh, say, brain cancer, now, would I WANT a grain of salt inserted into my brain? Just the thought of this makes me shudder.   

       Anyways, bun for something so half-baked that Bunsen and Honeydew are jealous.
froglet, Jun 20 2006

       [froglet], the brain has no pain receptors. It processes pain signals receieved from receptors everywhere else in the body, but there are no such receptors within the brain itself.   

       Nevertheless, I agree that GETTING AT a tumor in the brain, to do anything to it, is problematic enough.
Vernon, Jun 20 2006

       Salt will pull in water from everywhere - from neighboring cells good and bad, from adjacent noncellular tissues, etc etc. Water will move into the area until the oncotic pull is equalized.
bungston, Jun 20 2006

       [bungston], I mostly agree, but WHILE that is happening, salt is also leaving the scene. It doesn't stay in one place in a body that has dynamic fluid flow. Yes, I see your other post about deliberately attempting to decrease fluid flow; therefore you wrote about the logical consequence. But perhaps it isn't so necessary? How long does it take an excessive percentage of salt in body fluid to kill cells?
Vernon, Jun 20 2006

       //the brain has no pain receptors//   

       I know that, it's just that I don't know how anyone could feel comfortable with the explanation from doctors is that the best they can do is put a large grain of salt in their brain, or any other part of the body for that matter.
froglet, Jun 21 2006

       [froglet], well, If It Works, then we might wonder why it took them so long to investigate something so simple. But technically, it can't be worse than injecting any other localized drug for a localized tumor. It certainly can't be worse than the "modern" medically accepted treatment for gangrene (live fly maggots).
Vernon, Jun 21 2006

       [bungston], thanks for the link about "hypertonic saline". I had to look that up: 3% saline solution, instead of the normal 0.9%. But somehow I think an actual grain of salt would be more effective (escapes locality much more slowly), if it was sized appropriately to the targeted tumor.
Vernon, Jun 21 2006


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