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Spin doctors of cancer

MagazineJuly 1996 (Vol. 7 Issue 4)Spin doctors of cancer

In the early part of this century, a group of doctors gathered round a patient with cancer, regarding him as something akin to a circus freak

In the early part of this century, a group of doctors gathered round a patient with cancer, regarding him as something akin to a circus freak. "Take a good look," remarked a senior member," for this is the last time you will see this illness in your lifetime."

Some of those younger doctors would look back on his words as one of the worse medical predictions of the century. Seventy five years on, one in three of us in the West will have cancer at some point in our lives. It will also be the way most of us die.For our own 75th issue of What Doctors Don't Tell You, we thought it fitting to launch not only a new look but a two part special on this plague of our times. It also seemed appropriate, since this year marks another landmark, the 25th anniversary of the War on Cancer.

It is safe to say that virtually no progress has been made since President Nixon declared his war in 1971. No cancer incurable then is curable today.

In the early 1970s, medicine made great progress in treating certain rare cancers. Nevertheless, these constitute only 3 per cent of all registered cases. Since then, all the billions of dollars of research we've thrown at cancer hasn't influenced survival one little bit. More people than ever before are dying from the solid tumours that make up 90 per cent of all cancers.

You'd never know any of this if you talked to the average oncologist. Most would talk of the great strides made in chemotherapy, the new drugs, the new combinations of treatments. But the measure of how much this constitutes the treatment of desperation is in the language used "rescue" therapies and "salvage" operations and also the types of treatments being resorted to. With the latest, researchers are attempting to grow immune system cells in the test tube in a last ditch attempt to restore blood formation in patients who have undergone murderously high chemotherapy.

Cancer specialists who continue to believe that they are only just a protocol away from finding the cure often forget the patient in their zeal to blast out every last cancer cell. Recently one doctor returned from an autopsy with the proud announcement that his patient, who'd had widespread, disseminated cancer, had died "cancer free." What he neglected to admit was that the patient didn't die of cancer. It was the lung disease induced by chemotherapy that killed him.

The medical spin doctors have been particularly slick, instilling in the collective public mind a sense that we are winning the war.

It's time to admit their deception: in the main, chemotherapy, no matter how many drugs or how high the dosage, doesn't really work. Other treatments the ones the American Cancer Society considers unproven have better success rates. And once we all admit that, we can go forward.


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