Sunday, November 08, 2009

Is There a Doctor Economist in the House?

I have a serious question, and though it may seem innocent, forgive me because sometimes innocent-childlike logic exposes some of the more fraudulent people in society.

Is breast cancer (or any cancer) curable?

The reason I ask is because, sure enough as I'm going to the hardware store, there at Caribou Coffee is in great bright pink letters, "Amy's Blend NOW AVAILABLE!!!!"

Amy being an unfortunate young woman who died of breast cancer whilst under the employ of Caribou.

The reason I ask is because like Africa, like poverty, like any other noble charity, how many billions/trillions have been spent to no avail? We cure polio, malaria, etc., etc., in relatively short order once we dedicated ourselves to it, but as time goes on, I am more and more suspicious as to whether cancer CAN be cured, or whether this is just another tragedy being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people looking to avoid real work.

So if there are any medical/biological/doctor like Cappy Cap readers that can attest to whether the cure for cancer is possible or just a scam to raise money for professional crusaders and make more coffee sales for Caribou, I would certainly appreciate it.


Chemist said...

There is always a chance that any cancer can come back. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago (and did the treatments - so far, so good)so I've talked to a few doctors on the matter. So I'm told, you are considered "cured" after you die from something else. Until then, there is always a risk it will come back and kill you.

Anonymous said...

Not a doctor, nor an economist, so buyer beware.

I believe the medical profession considers cancer to be "cured" after 5 years of being cancer-free. Cancer-free meaning there are no detectable cancer cells in the body.

The standard treatment options for breast cancer include surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation, or combinations of the three.

That said, breast cancer has become a cause celibre - it's a very popular and cool thing to support, it's become heavily commercialized to the point of Major League Baseball playing games with pink bats.

Unfortunately, there are many other deserving cancers that have not captured the public awareness and corporate financial support that breast cancer has. One could argue that the popularity and commercialization of breast cancer has garnered so much attention and finances that it has deprived other cancers of funding.

Which I think is very unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

You have to remember that curing diseases is not profitable... what "they" come up with just prolongs the disease and makes it less lethal so you have to keep using the medicine... + those hippies get to have causes. It is a win-win.

PeppermintPanda said...

The difficulty with Cancer is that the older people live the more likely it becomes that they will get cancer, and it is highly likely for someone to get cancer in the future if you cure a person of a case of cancer. What this means is that even as we get more successful at curing cancer and extending people’s lives, cancer will continue to become a bigger and bigger problem because there will be more older people and cancer-survivors who will get cancer at very high rates.

Now I want to be clear that I'm not suggesting that we don't treat cancer, but I think it is important to devote a lot of resources towards preventing cancer; and to comming up with cost effective treatments for cancer. If we don't take these steps, and the average person ends up needing $1 Million worth of medical care throughout their life, healthcare will simply become out of the reach of everyone.

Anonymous said...

The short answer to both your questions is 'yes'

The longer answer is that the key to curing most breast canswer cases is early detection. If diagnosed before there is significant spread, then surgical removal coupled with radiation/chemo to 'mop up' any remaining cells can be curative.

Aggressive (fast growing) cancers or cancers with significant spread at the time of diagnosis are usually not curable.

Although increased awareness leads to increased screening and early detection/cure, when you see a pink product, think marketing.

Ironman said...

Yes and no, as survival rates depend upon the extent and severity of the cancer being treated.

Unfortunately for businesses using similar promotions to what you've described, where a portion of the sales price of a product is donated to cancer research/treatment/administrative overhead/et cetera, there's no indication that such promotions result in improved clinical outcomes for a statistically significant number of patients.

The correct phrase to describe those kind of promotions is "all hat, no cattle." If they really cared about finding cures, the marketing people who organize such things would stop what they're doing and go to medical school or study chemistry and biology instead.

Anonymous said...

AFAIK, the definition of cancer is a non-reproductive genetic mutation that causes uncontrolled cell division. The body normally has defenses against this, but sometimes these don't work properly.

Theoretically, I'd say that a cure for all cancer is possible, but even though we understand the cause, we're not any closer to a cure. Cancer donations are primarily used for R&D for various ways to combat individual diseases. The hope is that this piecemeal approach will eventually cure all cancer. In reality, we don't have a single method or set of methods that work on all forms of cancer.

In my opinion, it's best to wait for that final funding push until we have a treatment or set of treatments that work nearly 100% of the time. Milking the public for donations only works for so long before people get tired of it.

Anonymous said...

This is going to seem a strange way to learn about cancer. A little background, Bob Guccione founder of Penthouse magazine was married to Kathy Keeton who died in 1997 following intestinal surgery. She was the founder of Longevity magazine and possibly the most health conscious person on the planet. She was told she had six weeks to live three years before her death but used a treatment that the National Cancer Institute blackballed. Penthouse magazine then did a years long investigation into the cancer industry under the title "Medical Genocide". Here is what I remember; in 1950 the success rate against cancer was 49%, in 1990 after an investment of $200 billion dollars since the 'war on cancer' was declared, the success rate was 50%. Cancer treatment is a $15 billion/year industry and has very powerful lobbyists.

The head of the National Cancer Institute is/was a chemotherapist who rejects any other form of treatment out of hand. The basic concept of chemotherapy is to inject a poison that attacks cancers cells during mitosis when the cell divides and becomes two cells. Unfortunately, the poison kills good cells like those in your vital organs, weakening you.

Cancer are caused by viruses, of which there are over 200 recognized types. There are specific poisons (sorry - chemotherapy treatments) that work best on a certain type of cancer. I lived with a cancer nurse, who had most of her thigh removed as a teenager due to cancer, for a while and she advised that if I were ever diagnosed with cancer in the mouth I should just go home and shoot myself, it would be less painful and more dignified than having my jaw amputated.

Hope this enlightens.

Nick Rowe said...

It all depends on your definition of "cure".

Here is how the Mayo Clinic describes it.

Rather than say "cure", they refer to "survival" rates.

If a drug, procedure, or treatment results in removing recognizable signs of cancer or rendering the cancer so it is not progressing, they consider it a success.

98% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive 5 years later. If you die from some cause other than prostate cancer, then you have "survived" the cancer. Because prostate cancer develops very slowly, most men die with it rather than from it. However, dying from prostate cancer is an extremely painful way to go; the disease gets into your bones.

Here are some cancer statistics.

The number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer is almost identical to the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer but 1.5 women die from breast cancer for every man who dies from prostate cancer.

Women hold an overwhelming advantage in publicity and fundraising for their brand of cancer research. While I was in Chicago, half the city was lit up in pink for breast cancer awareness. We buy yogurt with pink lids to raise money for it. But you almost never see the blue ribbon for prostate cancer.

It's hard to tell how the money is spent. Some of it goes toward research for a cure. Some of it goes toward paying for currently available treatment.

An economics professor I worked for runs the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research (in honor of his son who died of the disease) which gives grants to nurses working with lymphoma patients. Apparently they were a source of great comfort to people afflicted with this painful disease and the horrific treatment regimen. Chemotherapy is essentially poison.

Before giving to any charity, you should read their prospectus on how their donations are used and what percent of donations is absorbed by administrative costs. I believe they are required by law to disclose this information.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 40, by the way. I had surgery and so far there's no sign of cancer. I hate the word "survivor" because it gives the false impression that cancer is something you can "fight". It would be more correct to say you fight to survive the treatment and the side-effects.

AIDS/HIV gets an enormous amount of public and private funding relative to the number of people the disease kills.

The bottom line is that a good PR campaign helps. Perhaps I should work more or donate more for prostate cancer research, but it seems almost selfish. I wouldn't be so disgusted by the self-serving "race for the cure" for breast cancer and AIDS if they were lobbying only for private donations, but they have a huge advantage in public funding as well.

Anonymous said...

It's unclear whether cancer is curable. While it's true that certain genes make one predisposed to it (a small change to rat DNA makes them virtual cancer factories), none of them cause cancer. This differs from traditional genetic diseases, where having the bad gene is a guarantee you'll have the disease. Predisposition for cancers seems to be specific, though, since if you have (or are likely to have) a predisposition for breast cancer that doesn't seem to make you predisposed to (for example) pancreatic cancer (which, btw, is far more deadly than breast cancer).

I believe that since error is inherent in physical processes like DNA transcription, gene therapy will be able to reduce, but not eliminate, the incidence of most cancers, and that new treatment methods will be able to put into remission most cancers in most people. Basically, cancer isn't curable because it's inherent in how DNA works, and because medicine is really a matter of statistics rather than hard and fast outcomes.

C said...

I think this is what you're trying to get to.

Anonymous said...

cancer is both preventable and curable:

Chris said...

I'm sure somebody will be able to pull up actual stats, but in recent years the cure rate for certain types of cancers has gone up significantly.

For those that can't be cured it can be managed much more effectively than it could before.

Whether the progress in treatments justifies the cost of research, well that's an individual question.

Anonymous said...

The longer answer is that the key to curing most breast canswer cases is early detection

If that were true, we would have seen a significant decrease in mortality from all the money we're spending on mammograms. We have not. The truth is that what matters most is how quickly the cancer grows, not when you detect it. Your death from a fast growing cancer is virtually assured from the moment it started, because there is no treatment regimen that is 100% effective at killing cancer cells. I'm not saying that treatment won't prolong your life, but in the long run your body cannot take the frequent and repeated rounds of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery required to combat the cancer.

R said...

All I know is that when you are the one sitting on the exam room table and your doctor is looking at you saying, "We don't really like what we're seeing, it looks cancerous so we're going to send you to the U," you aren't thinking about who is trying to raise money to find a cure. You are thinking about not being scared, about how you are going to tell your family without scaring them, and how you are going to beat it.

After you've gone through the surgeries and all the other hoops that have to be gone through, and your oncologist looks at you, hands you a little 5-year pin and says, "Congratulations, you don't have to come back and see me any more," you realize you've made it. Other people are going to be in the same position you were in, they will be scared, frustrated, and overwhelmed. You know what that feels like so it really doesn't bother you to see businesses or individuals trying to raise money for a cure so other people don't have to feel those things because of cancer. I do agree you need to be cautious and make sure it is a cause that is truly giving the stated amount to cancer research.

That being said, a cure for cancer may never be found, and perhaps we do need to look at how to prevent it rather than how to cure it. But, in the meantime, I'm glad there are people out there willing to raise money to get us a little closer. Going through it sucks and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Anonymous said...

Captain, I attended a genetics conference recently, and found out about something called the "protein reaction chain". Basically it is a series of proteins within a cell that transmit the order for the cell to divide when certain conditions are met. However, in cancerous cells, the damaged DNA can create abnormal proteins that start the protein reaction chain as soon as the cell divides.

Now, there are researchers who are working to study the exact shape of those abnormal proteins, so that they can engineer compounds that can neutralize them. If administered to a person, the compounds will only affect the cancerous cells because normal cells don't have the abnormal proteins.

This sounds great, until one considers how many different ways for DNA to create abnormal proteins. There are hundreds upon hundreds of places to go wrong. There is a cure to be found, but there's mountains of research to be done in order to cure just one type of cancer. Then one can move on to the rest of the hundreds.

Bike Bubba said...

Just lost my mom to colon cancer, and there are two lessons I'm taking away.

First of all, cancer is not generally "cured" at all. It goes into remission.

Second, there are likely a huge number of ways that the normal growth of a cell can accelerate, resulting in cancer.

So "a" cure for cancer? No more likely than finding "a" cause for it.

Many ways to bring it into remission? Yes. A cure? Absolutely not. A cure for some types? I hope.