Oncologist who assessed Lockerbie Bomber now says he was unsure about prognosis

Those who know cancer understand that it can be a tricky disease. Often, oncologists have trouble accurately diagnosing certain types of cancer for one reason or another, and many times, the prognosis given to a patient by their doctor can change. Initially, it may seem like a cancer patient has limited time left, but with the discovery of new information, their projected survival rate may be increased.

Despite understanding that cancer is a difficult disease to diagnose and treat, in the case of the Lockerbie Bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the families of his victims now believe that his prognosis was mishandled and that his compassionate release last year should never have happened.

al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 people on the ground. al-Megrahi, of Libya, served several years in prison before he was evaluated by physicians and cancer specialists to see if he qualified for compassionate release. Under Scottish law, prisoners may be granted compassionate release if they have less than three months to survive. In August of last year, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted the Lockerbie Bomber release.

A prostate cancer sufferer, al-Megrahi was told that he had only three months to live after being evaluated by a prison doctor and at least three other cancer treatment specialists, but a year after his release, he is still alive. He is, according to reports, still undergoing treatment for his cancer.

Recently, one of the doctors who evaluated al-Megrahi said that he would have given a different statement regarding al-Megrahi’s prognosis if he could “go back in time,” telling Britain’s Observer that he should have placed more focus on “statistical chances and not hard fact.” The specialist, Dr. Karol Sikora, is Dean of the School of Medicine at Buckingham University in England.

For the families of those who lost their lives in the terror attack over Lockerbie, the news of al-Megrahi’s release was devastating. Even more shocking was the “hero’s welcome” he received upon returning to Libya. Many believed that, cancer or not, al-Megrahi should have remained in prison to serve the sentence he had originally been handed.

This breaking news brings to light the issue of predicting a cancer patient’s prognosis. In 2009, a study at Stanford University resulted in a new method of predicting cancer prognosis. It involved extracting microRNA from cancerous tissue. ScienceDaily reported that:

“This new protocol, therefore, will allow for the identification of novel miRNAs that may differ in cancerous and healthy tissue, even from long-preserved tissue, leading to better predictions of disease prognosis and treatment response.”

There’s no doubt that a study like the above would benefit the field of cancer treatment, as an accurate prognosis by an oncologist is extremely important to not only the patient, but their family.

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, often the first question they may ask is “How long am I going to live?” It’s something that many oncologists have trouble answering. And the latest with the Lockerbie Bomber begs the question: should incarcerated cancer patients be eligible for compassionate release if they are believed to have just a few months to survive? Will doctors who are asked to assess a cancer patient who is in jail “abuse the system,” so to speak, and inaccurately state their prognosis? Should doctors even try to predict a cancer patient’s prognosis without solid facts to back it up?

What do you think? Should Abdel Baset al-Megrahi be reevaluated and potentially returned to Scottish prison? Interact with us on Twitter @doyouknowcancer or share your comments here and on our Facebook page.


The Washington Times


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