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Cancer: What You Need to Know (cont.)

Cancer Myths and Reality

MYTH: Progress for people with advanced cancer has been so slow because there is a conspiracy between the American Medical Association and drug companies. Some people with cancer and their families think doctors are keeping the cure for cancer under wraps so that money can be made from cancer treatments.

REALITY: Does any reasonable person think that a cure for cancer would remain secret for long? Obviously not.

  • Now, let's think about this for a moment. Nurses get cancer. Pharmacists get cancer. Physicians get cancer, as do family members of these professionals. With the Internet and high-speed modems, it is inconceivable that some scientist laboring in isolation in a bunker someplace will have a cure for this problem.
  • The World Wide Web can be your best source for sound information (but also at times a repository for some of the worst). A cure for cancer does not exist in cyberspace, or in a clinic in Mexico, or with a healer in the Philippines.

MYTH: We can put a man on the moon. We can send a rocket around Jupiter. Why can't we cure cancer?

REALITY: This question underscores a common misunderstanding that cancer is one disease. In fact, cancer is a group of hundreds of diseases. Each disease has a unique biological record, and each of which may be caused by very different circumstances. Cancer which starts in the breast is different disease than cancer which starts in the lung, for example. One "magic bullet" will not eradicate all types of cancers.

  • A major study from the University of Chicago stated that the survival from cancer is no different now compared with 30 years ago. This is an extreme view because, in fact, people with cancer are living longer and clearly have a better quality of life than they did a generation ago. Today, 2 of every 3 of those diagnosed with cancer are alive more than 5 years following their diagnosis. In 1970, this was only true for about 1 in 3.
  • We know this because some cancers are indeed curable, even in the far advanced stages as with testicular cancer, Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkins lymphomas, acute leukemia in both children and adults, and in a few other types of cancer.

MYTH: If we can only hold on for a few more months, a cure will be on the horizon and all will be well.

REALITY: Although there have been spectacular advances in the treatment of cancer and although people are living far longer today than in any time in history, it is not reasonable to expect that, within the next years, there will be a "heat-seeking missile" or some magical vaccine to annihilate cancer. Progress against this dreaded group of diseases has been agonizingly slow, but it is moving forward in the right direction.

  • Clinical trials and conventional therapies hold promise, but cure is not possible for most people with advanced cancer, which is already spread to other parts of the body when it is first found.
  • But what is possible is an often longer-lasting as well as a better quality of life because we now have far better treatments for the types of cancer and pain, nausea, and vomiting than we did just a few years ago.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2016
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