August 2001

Apical Views

By Michael J. Katin, MD

Most readers have observed that I have been making a concerted effort to keep these columns topical and educational and, most of all, relevant to the practice of radiation oncology. I have frequently been commended for adhering to this policy despite the temptation to take the easy way out and aim at a lower intellectual level.

It was an easy decision, therefore, to postpone this month's plan to definitively settle the problems associated with stem cell research, in favor of the more immediate matter of the significance of the messages addressed in the number-one grossing movie in the country, Planet of the Apes.

This is a major phenomenon. It is probable that this film will rank #1 until it is supplanted by Planet of the Apes II. There are confirmed reports that Kenneth Branagh is already casting Hamlet with actors in full ape regalia. There is even a preliminary report that Cats will return to Broadway, with actors dressed as apes wearing cat costumes and makeup.

Although the main purpose that Planet of the Apes was made was to enable fast-food tie-ins and sales of action figures, there is an appeal on a very basic level that is highly pertinent to our current environment. For the fourteen people reading who are not familiar with the plot, on the Planet of the Apes humans are an inferior, savage species and apes are dominant and civilized. Or else it probably wouldn't be called Planet of the Apes, would it? The profundity is that even on Planet of the People humans can act in an uncivilized way while denouncing other species as primitive. This would usually be the major lifetime philosophical revelation for the majority of the audience.

The reason I consider this illustrative of our current situation at almost every level. All of a sudden, everything that we have believed is being reversed. We are supposed to worry about global warming, yet some parts of the world were hit by major winter storms a few months ago. Politically, all standards are off. China is now acceptable for the Olympics. The Democrats are the champions of paying off the national debt (how did that happen?!). And medically: Butter is better for you than margarine. Cigarette smoking can protect you from Alzheimer's disease. Now we find out that estrogens don't actually protect women from heart disease. And now we even know that, after years of being blamed for damaging blood vessels, radiation therapy can reduce restenosis.

And the most amazing change of all.....radiation oncology is the medical specialty residency now in most demand.

email: mkatin@radiotherapy.com