Cancer is one of the scariest things we can and will face in our lifetimes. It’s a very emotional time and we become susceptible to hopes and infer things unsaid from our doctors.
Some cancers we do exceedingly well with treatment. Others, not so much so. And for those that we don’t have effective treatments for the immediate future continues to look bleak. We just don’t have good options for treating cancers like pancreatic, colon, advanced breast and prostate cancer. And do not mistake good outcomes promoted by various natural groups for cancers that were actually “pre-” cancerous and not likely to progress to full cancer (which happens commonly with breast and prostate cancers).
For those tougher cancers, this means that we hear hope when hope might not really be given by our cancer doctors. (A recent study looking at 102 cancer center advertisements found that most ads used emotional appeals / hope instead of information about treatments–only 2% of the ads tried to “quantify” the potential benefits or mentioned risks) Oncologists are human. It takes a pretty detached physician to look a cancer patient in the eyes, family also present, and tell them that there really are no good options for treatment.
Maybe this is why it never seems to happen. I have had patients, friends and family who have been recommended treatment for a cancer with a grim prognosis. In these situations, it should have been explained that the treatments will likely not do much to improve survival and will likely destroy any quality of life the patient would otherwise have had.
Just to illustrate how true this is, theirs was a review article looking at this very topic and the costs associated with drugs for cancer care. The results:
- In the 71 drugs licensed by the FDA for the treatment of solid tumors since 2002, the average survival benefit is 2.1 months.
- These few weeks usually come at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars and severe adverse effects.
I don’t mean to sound like the doom and gloom bringer, but society needs to take a more reality based approach to cancer treatment. If society understood just how poorly we still deal with cancer maybe we would start giving prevention the spotlight that it so rightly deserves. Further, maybe we should offer cancer patients options: (1) Expensive cancer treatment loaded with side effects that will only marginally prolonged your life or (2) tens of thousands of dollars to live the life of your dreams for the next 2-4 or 6 months. Take that cruise to the Mediterranean. Take the 2 week Hawaii vacation and helicopter over the volcanoes. And bring all your close family members. Option 2 would save countless thousands of dollars.
As the cancer patient, which memories would you rather leave your loved ones with?