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New Cancer Drug May Treat More Than Cancer

By The Cynic


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I 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: treating disease.

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 the matter.

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.

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Additionally, 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 their life.

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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