Just a few (preliminary) thoughts about "spontaneous remission" in the context of cancer:
- A side note regarding terminology:
a. The term "spontaneous" isn't used only in cancer, but applied to other diseases or pathologies as well. For example, spontaneous mutations, spontaneous abortions, spontaneous pneumothorax, some leprosy (tuberculoid) patients often spontaneously recover, etc. There seems to be a degree of indiscrimination in the use of the term "spontaneous".
b. Focusing on cancer, I've seen and heard physicians use both "spontaneous regression" as well as "spontaneous remission". Likewise that's what I read in the relevant medical literature. If I had to pick, I'd say I see "spontaneous regression" more often used. However, I'm not sure if there's meant to be a significant distinction between the two or if they're both interchangeable. Perhaps "remission" is meant to suggest permanency in a way "regression" is not? In any case, I don't see how one term makes an important enough difference over the other, but it could be I'm missing some subtleties or nuances.
- A few complications which make it more difficult to address spontaneous regression cases:
a. I think one of the main complications is simply that cancer isn't a single disease. It's a collection of many diseases. What ties them all together into "cancer" is mutations in DNA which lead to a cell growing out of control. There's a plethora of possible mutations which cause cancer. It's not at all uncommon to see 100 mutated genes in a single tumor.
b. Another major complication is cancer cells are adaptive. Cancer cells can adapt to drugs such as chemotherapies and become resistant to these drugs, similar to bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant.
c. The last big complication is cancer needs a receptive environment in which to thrive. For example, I've read some people have molecular and cellular changes which are characteristic of leukemia, but they don't have leukemia. That seems to be because the environment of their bodies wasn't receptive to developing leukemia.
- Keeping the above complications in mind:
a. Spontaneous regression can depend on the kind of cancer one has. Spontaneous regression is known to happen in some cancers far more frequently than others (e.g. as many as one-third of low grade lymphomas are known to spontaneously regress without any treatment).
b. At the same time, it can depend on the patient. That's because it's thought spontaneous regression is most likely an immune phenomenon (i.e. related to immune checkpoint inhibition; cf. PD-1/PD-L1). Our immune system is able to distinguish between friend and foe. Yet cancers can mask themselves as friends when they're really foes, thereby circumventing our immune system. However, it seems some people's immune systems can aid the environment of their bodies, making it less congenial to developing some cancers. (Hence much of the future of cancer therapies is focused on changing the body's environment to make it inhospitable to developing cancer.)
- I think all this is actually helpful to know:
a. For one thing, if some cancers are known to have extremely low spontaneous regression or remission rates, then, if, say, someone prayed over a patient with a cancer with extremely low rates, and their cancer spontaneously regressed, then it'd seem to have the backing of scientific evidence that this type of cancer is highly unlikely to spontaneously regress or remit.
b. Of course, God could use means by which to spontaneously regress or remit cancers. For example, perhaps prayer "activated" or "deactivated" something in someone's immune system for them to spontaneously regress or remit the cancer. So prayer healing cancer and a known mechanism for spontaneous regression are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
- I don't know what kind of cancer Joy Davidman had. I've read she had some sort of bone cancer that metastasized to her breast.
I'm not sure if the breast metastasis was in her initial diagnosis or if it came later when she finally succumbed to it.
If her bone cancer had already metastasized to her breast in her initial presentation, then I'd guess it'd be highly unlikely to go into remission. Of course, I'm no oncologist, but given how rare bone cancers are in adults (metastasis to the bones are way more common), given her bone cancer metastasized to her breast, and given back in the 1950s they didn't have a whole lot of the understanding about cancer and how to treat it like we do today (e.g. Watson and Crick had just discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 and cancer is fundamentally a molecular and cellular disease), that's my working assumption.
If all this is so, then the fact that it did go into remission after prayer should be deemed "miraculous".