Medlink Conference – Day 3 Venue: University of Nottingham
I attended the Medlink Exhibition where I spoke to different Medical schools about the structure of their course and entry requirements. I also spoke to students from each of the different universities which was very useful in allowing me to compare them and gain a true insight into what the course was actually like. One my highlights at the exhibition was the surgical stand which was run by Medical students who wanted to become surgeons. They taught me how to create a knot in surgery using real surgical equipment and then I was able to have a go. I learnt that lots of knots have to be tied all the way down the cut, which I was quite amazed by as the knot itself appeared to be quite complicated and it seemed as though this would take quite a fair bit of time.
In this lecture I learnt about cancer diagnosis and treatment. I saw a graph which was showing that the number of people being diagnosed with cancer was increasing. The graph also had the proportion of people dying from cancer after being diagnosed plotted on it, this was decreasing. I was quite surprised to see this relationship. However, after some thought I am now able to reflect that this is due to the many advances in modern Medicine as well as the growing number of campaigns which urge people to recognise early warning signs of cancer. Spotting the signs early, makes a cure more likely.
Another graph which I found to be quite thought provoking was one showing that the percentage of people developing lung cancer is increasing, clearly due more people smoking. But what I was really drawn by was the fact that the graph showed that the percentage of people developing lung cancer was also increasing amongst non-smokers. I am able to reflect that this is probably due to the effects of passive smoking.
Cancer is clearly a disease which affects a large proportion of the population and I learnt about some of its causes which include diet, radiation, viruses, smoking and many other currently unknown causes. The single most important risk factor of cancer is aging and the risk dramatically increases at the age of 60. Some of the best ways of diagnosing cancer are: by visual inspection (naked eye/endoscopy), blood tests, X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans. One of the drawbacks of this is that the limit for clinical detection is 10^9 cells (approximately 1cm in width) which means that the cancer must have grown a significant amount before there is even the possibility of it being detected. Early detection is really valued as it allows treatment plans to be put in place and often means the tumour is still confined to one particular part of the body, however, this also brings problems of its own, such as: the psychological impact of a person or a person’s family finding out they have a life limiting illness; side effects of treatment which requires a lot of strength and stamina to endure; travel insurance problems etc. I am able to reflect on the importance of a doctor being able to look at the options and the benefits and risks of each one – early detection of a terminal cancer seems like a good thing, but this isn’t always the case in every situation.
I found it quite interesting to learn that the only two parts of the body that can’t get cancer is the hair and the nails as they are made of dead tissues. I also learnt about the three main principles of cancer treatment:
- To eradicate the tumour
- Leave the patient with a good cosmetic result
- Obtain the best possible functional result
Occasionally radioactive iridium wires are used and are put through the tumour for a certain period of time and then are removed. However, the use of this form of treatment is increasingly reducing as people find external treatments easier. I was able to see some of the physical differences of patients before and after they received radiotherapy – this allowed me to truly appreciate the achievements of modern medicine. Many of these people had tumours located in very visible areas such as the nose or elsewhere on the face, however, the treatment had removed the tumour so they were be able to continue leading normal lives.
Although, chemotherapy is able to produce some remarkably positive results in a patient, it also has some very unpleasant side effects such as hair loss, fungal infections and extravasation. I learnt that most Chemotherapy drugs are given through the veins, but some are given through the mouth for relieving symptoms and prolonging lives.
Careers in Pathology
A lot of the information I was given in this lecture reinforced what I had learnt about the roles of Pathologists during my work experience at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. I really liked the description of Pathology as being the “hidden Science at the heart of Medicine” as it is a branch of Medicine which is concerned with the cause of disease and the study of disease processes.
As well as Histopathology, Haematology and Microbiology which I was already aware of, I also learnt about another branch of Pathology: Biochemistry, which is the study of the blood’s chemistry such as endocrine disorders. I learnt about eighteen different specialties including neuropathology, virology and paediatric pathology. Hearing that Pathology is involved in 70% of diagnoses was quite a remarkable statistic for me as I wasn’t aware that pathology was such a vast field and had such a great impact on providing basic healthcare. The role of Pathologists is also changing as they are becoming more frequently seen on the wards to help give advice on the care of a particular patient. I am able to reflect that Pathologists are a vital part of the multidisciplinary team as they are involved in planning investigations and treatments. They also attend meetings on research and development of new infections, drugs and equipment as well as teaching programmes.
Microbiology involves the identification of microorganisms. In this field some microorganisms have to be contained due to them being potentially harmful and necessary precautions must also be taken to prevent them from contaminating the surroundings. This made me think about the importance of a doctor’s duty to ensure that they are very careful not to spread diseases and abide by all the basic infection control procedures, such as hand washing. Haematology is about diseases and disorders of the blood whereas Biochemistry investigates the biochemical changes in the blood such as diabetes and toxicology (searching for drugs in the blood, like quantifying alcohol). Within Histopathology tissue samples are examined to aid the diagnosis of a disease. I was also fortunate enough to be able to see the multi-headed microscopes which are used to allow multiple professionals to look at a specimen together so a consultant can discuss it. This technology can also be used for educational purposes.
Microbiology and Bioterrorism
During this lecture I learnt about some significant discoveries within the field of microbiology and the scientists behind them:
- Louis Pasteur – the founding father of microbiology with his ideas of pasteurisation.
- Robert Koch – he showed specific organisms as being the cause of disease.
- Paul Ehrlich – pioneered the development of antimicrobials for treating Sphilis.
- Alexander Fleming – discovered Penicillin.
I learnt about the role of women in Patholgy in the 1940s: they grew Penicillin and were known as the ‘Pencillin Girls’.
I learnt that before there was an understanding of microbes at around 400 BC arrows were dippe in decomposing bodies or manure during battle which demonstrates a fundamental understanding that this action was able to kill or cause more suffering to more people. They also used to catapult plagued cadavers which demonstrates the recognition of a disease’s ability to spread. I though this was a fascinating look back into history as it is quite amazing to consider that humans were able to recognise the natural disease spreading process (despite not understanding how it happened) in order to use it to for their own advantage. However, the potential of this is also quite frightening hence the banning of biological weapons by the Geneva Convention in 1925. This is an aspect of Science and Medicine which had never dawned upon me; I had never considered the potential impact of the destruction of microbes in warfare.
Anthrax is a disease which is caused by a bacterium, most forms of the disease are lethal and it can be contracted by simply breathing in spores. It mainly affects animals. I learnt about an interesting experiment which was carried out by the UK in which Anthrax explosives were dropped on an area of land. All the sheep died from the Anthrax and the area remained contaminated for decades and was forbidden to enter until is was decontaminated. This experiment was really thought provoking as I had never thought about microbes in this way. It really made me reflect on the danger diseases really pose to the population as only a small dose is needed due to the fact that they are highly infective and can continue spreading from one person to another. The after effects are also clearly very large and will cause devastating levels of suffering to many people.