am excited to hear about the new cancer drug, STI571 Doctors
Excited by New Cancer Treatment). I am excited for two
reasons. First, I am obviously excited for Leukemia victims who
now have new hope for surviving an all too often terminal
disease and for the possibility of this drug being used as a
template to treat other cancers. Second, I am excited because a
new treatment such as this will breathe new life into a practice
that it seems far too many doctors are forgetting these days:
I say this because, lately, I have a problem with doctors.
Wait...that's not true, I have a problem with the current
practice of medicine(whew...I just avoided about 3 dozen emails
there). It seems that while there have been minor breakthroughs
in treatments of diseases, that the Medical Establishment's main
focus has been on preventative medicine. A breakthrough such as
this may shift the focus back to the treatment of disease.
I do not think it is wrong that anyone should try to reduce
their chances of getting a disease. It is the responsible thing
to do. Eat right. Exercise. Don't smoke. Drink in moderation.
Avoid caffeine. It is all good advice. The problem is that
living up to this advice is absolutely no fun.
To me, a doctor's first and foremost duty is not to prevent me
from getting a disease, but to save me from random diseases, the
perils of my own vices and to patch me up when I cut myself with
the hedgetrimmers. After that, he is guessing.
What you say?
Yup, he is guessing. Just about all preventative medicine is
based on epidemiological studies. To a layman, that basically
means that they look at a group of people who have something and
try to figure out if they share a quality. If epidemiologists
look at a group of 100 people who have colon cancer, and then
discover that 80 of them have eaten Ajax in the last 10 years,
they would then try to determine the significance of this data.
From this data they can attempt to prove that either eating Ajax
can cause colon cancer or that colon cancer victims have a
proclivity to eating Ajax. They make a determination and then
release it to peer review. Other epidemiologists will try to
reproduce the study to prove or disprove the findings. Often
they will find that the study was not accurate after discovering
that they could find a group of 100 people who have eaten Ajax
with no incidence of colon cancer. This will go on and on for
years before anything conclusive is learned.
Epidemiology is a very complex science. Think about all the
reports you hear on the "Health Beat" portions of
local news programs. Same old coffee is good for you/coffee is
bad for you analogy. The media picks up these studies and runs
with them as stories, even though the studies are in various
stages of their completion. The media is very irresponsible
while reporting these claims, as they will often act as if these
studies actually proved something, when usually they have just
raised enough questions to warrant further investigation into
Which brings me back to doctors. Gone are the days where doctors
would work only 3 days a week and golf every afternoon. With the
prevalence of HMOs and Medicare patients, doctors are finding
themselves in a position of working longer hours and having to
take more patients. Your doctor now sees 6 patients an hour 9
hours a day and even having to put in the occasional Saturday.
There is no way your doctor can devote the enormous amount of
time necessary into discovering the validity of the thousands of
these claims and be knowledgeable enough to advise you on them.
I seem to be hearing a lot of stories about doctor's treating
their own advice as if they were the word of God. Medicine is an
ever evolving science and while 8 years of medical schooling is
worthy of respect, it does not make one immune to criticism.
Doctors are human, they make mistakes. When a doctor tells you
to quit drinking coffee because it is bad for whatever ails you,
you do not have to take him at his word for it. The Internet
makes multitudes of information on studies and health
information easily accessible and you can usually find the
information regarding these claims. You can then assess for
yourself if the risk is real. Chances are your doctor never
actually read the study, he just had heard about it.
I'm not trying to paint doctors with a broad brush here. Most
doctors perform their task well. The problem is that the media
has put a lot of people into scare mode and they are running to
their doctors anytime they think that something they are doing
will make them likely to contract some disease later on. The
doctors are forced to make an on-the-spot judgment call to these
claims and move on to the next patient. Imagine how many
patients a doctor could see per day if he had to look up every
one of these claims. (Just as an aside, I use the masculine
pronoun "he", not because I am a sexist, but because I
do not want to type "he or she" 150 times.....that and
I don't trust chick doctors)
I am not saying preventative medicine is without merit.
Obviously, not smoking reduces your risk for lung cancer.
Lowering your fat intake will help keep your weight down. Most
of this is just common sense. It's just that if we believed
every study, and followed every piece of advice by a doctor or
health expert we would find ourselves living in self-made
prisons where we are trying to survive to 100 by monitoring
every aspect of our own activities and diet. Chances are you
will probably still not live to 100. (hell, you can get hit by a
truck next week)
I will be happy to see this torrid love affair with preventative
medicine come to an end. While of course any treatment will cost
you a thousand times more then using common sense in your
health, we can overkill on trying to extend our lives beyond
what is considered average. Living a long life is not the same
as living a happy life. People tell me stories of people who
lived to 100 by not indulging in fatty foods and never drinking
or smoking throughout their life. I have to correct these people
when they tell me these stories. They did not live to be 100,
they survived to be 100. They never "lived" a day in
So I am hoping that this new cancer drug ends up being a cure
for all cancers. I am also hoping that it cures our society of
all this preventative medicine nonsense that is nothing more
than us trying to survive longer at the expense of the simple
pleasures of life. To me, a life without indulgence should be
the one that should be shorter, otherwise what would be the
point of it all?
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