Since I was a child I can recall reading news of hope for a cure for cancer being on the way. We don’t seem to go too long without reading about this study or that study showing preliminary promise to finding the cure. After paragraphs of promising exposition we read the inevitable bit about testing being years away before we can try it on humans. Years pass and the promising news of yesterday doesn’t pan out as hoped, and gives way to the latest “shows potential” research.
I don’t mean to be cynical; I understand things like promising new research, the number of cancer survivors going up, and breakthroughs, even small ones, being newsworthy and cause for appreciation and hope. But reality says:
- Deaths by cancer are still going up.
- Death by cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and first leading cause worldwide.
And despite the increased survivors, and despite the breakthroughs and continuing stories of hope:
- Cancer deaths are projected to continue to rise and eclipse heart disease as the number one killer in the U.S.
So what are the big challenges with finding a cure? Here is a look at five obstacles:
5 – Cancer is not one illness.
Cancer is one word that encompasses 100’s of diseases or variations. For a far better scientific explanation than I can offer, Click here.
4 – How much energy is actually going into looking for cures?
Many doctors will tell you that most chronic cancers are incurable. The best outcome is to put cancer in remission. “The big three”, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are NOT cures. They are disease or symptom management. They are the primary accepted ways to treat cancer according to western medicine. Improving those methods may improve cancer management. They may increase life expectancy (in some cases the cancer may never return), and as valuable as this is, again, they are not “cures”.
They do not treat the cause of the cancer; rather they seek to destroy the result (tumor). Each option presenting serious potential health risks and side effects of their own. In the case of chemo and radiation they can cause, you guessed it, cancer. Surgery risks include: infection, blood clots, respiratory failure, and death.
In addition, much of the diagnostic technology, x-rays, cat scans, and pet scans are also potentially cancer causing.
How much time, money, and research is being spent towards symptom management versus cure? What diagnostic tools are being advanced that are not potentially cancer causing?
Of course most situations are unique in terms of type and stage of cancer, as well as the age and health of the person diagnosed. You have to weigh the risks and rewards of any treatment and consult with your doctor when making decisions. For many with cancer, the risks of the above are worth it because the science (and their doctors) tells them it gives them to best chance to survive or extend life.
The point I am trying to make in this post is that we can do better. And that the status quo is not working as well or as fast as it can or should.
3 – Can we turn back the clock?
In addition to relevant screening tests, prevention relates to diet, exercise, lifestyle habits such as smoking, hygiene products we use, and home cleaning products. And on a larger collective scale, the environment and the air we breathe. Here we do have some more power.
However, it will take revolutionary action to make a difference on a large-scale. As a society we have no problem taxing the heck out of cigarettes and while cigarettes are a major risk factor, it is not the only one.
- Individually, we consume on average, nearly double the sugar on a daily basis than we did a hundred years ago.
- We only consume on average 1.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, and that is only if you include fat and sodium laden items like French fries and ketchup!
- We don’t exercise enough.
- Air quality/ pollution also contribute to the problem.
These things not only affect cancer statistics, but heart disease, diabetes and obesity as well.
Obstacles here, include billions of dollars spent on marketing to manipulate us to do and eat things that may not be good for us. For example, much like the tobacco industry targets kids to get customers hooked when they’re young so they will have customers for life, so to does the food industry.
But there is also a level of personal responsibility here. And this is one obstacle we can reverse on an individual and collective level.
2 – Lack of political will.
Yes, there is the President’s Cancer Panel, but collectively, politicians either do not care or do not care enough about finding a cure for cancer. Politicians care about the issues that can get them votes: The economy, taxes, terrorism, healthcare, access to birth control, immigration, gay marriage, gun control, abortion, etc..
Most of these issues combined don’t wreak the havoc that cancer does in terms of lives lost, emotional devastation, and financial cost to us as individuals, and as a nation.
Further, and by extension, all the media pundits who support one political party or the other generally only report on things when “their” side is doing well on one of these topics. Or, when the other side is doing bad. Nothing quite stirs the partisans up like a good “gotcha” moment.
Cancer is an issue without political claim or stake by either the democrats or republicans so there is nothing to be gained (politically) in the eyes of FOX news, MSNBC et al by reporting on it or demanding that we do more to stop cancer.
Believe me, the second they can pin the lack of cure on a party or get votes out of it, the talking points will be coming to fast and too furious to keep up with. Investigations, bi-partisan committees and oversight hearings would ensue, and politicians would have to speak to the threat and what they think we should do. (I go into the political aspect in more detail in a blog about the politics of fear.)
Finally, lack of political will leads right to…
1 – Public apathy…
It is up to us to make finding the cure for cancer a much bigger issue and priority than it currently is.
- There should not be a presidential debate about domestic issues that doesn’t address what a candidates thoughts are on the problem and what his or her administration will do.
- We need more oversight about what is being done in the fight against cancer.
- More accountability to how money is being spent, and what the pharmaceutical companies are researching and doing.
- We need more oversight into hospitals and the reason for all the accidental deaths that occur there.
- We need to look into the advertising practices of the food industry and consider restrictions or warnings to potentially cancer causing or contributing foods or diets like we have done with tobacco and alcohol. Simultaneously, we need to promote more cancer awareness in terms of its prevalence and in terms of lifestyles that prevent and promote the killer.
Now is a time with social media where the public can galvanize and make a difference that would have been more challenging in the past.
The Ray Rice episode is instructive from the point of view of witnessing how fluid the National Football League’s stance has been on domestic violence. After being excoriated for only giving Rice a two game suspension for domestic violence they quickly revisited their policy and made it stricter for future offenders. When the video of Rice hitting his fiancé was released, they quickly revisited their two game suspension of Rice and suspended him indefinitely. When Commissioner Roger Goodell’s version of events was contradicted, they called in the former head of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller, to lead an investigation into the NFL’s handling of the situation.
This would not have occurred without the public, the media and social media’s influence. This would not have occurred without the TV show TMZ, which released the Rice video, if TMZ didn’t operate separately from big business (the NFL), and from the government. (The legal system gave Rice a slap on the wrist and now that may be investigated.)
If the media were to apply this same level of passion and outcry about cancer… If someone like Harvey Levin of TMZ or Wikileaks would release incriminating videos or documents, and if we the public were to be more assertive, and less apathetic, we could demand and get more oversight. We could demand and get more accountability. We can force cancer to become an issue where politicians would have to account for where they stand.
By decreasing apathy, we increase political will, this in turn would hopefully create of sooner bring about:
- More oversight.
- More awareness.
- A more efficient consumer friendly system.
- Better prevention.
- Reduction in side effects for those diagnosed.
- Less complications.
- Safer and more effective treatments.
- A cure.
Now isn’t that worth paying attention to?
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