It may have started in the mid 1990s when I purchased a book called: The Cancer Wars. As much as I hate the connotation that everything is a “War”, when it’s not – this was a very eye-opening book. The Cancer Wars spent a lot of time looking at the political side of the cancer industry, but from a scientific standpoint. Author Robert Proctor from Penn State is a history professor – so he doesn’t have a political axe to grind, like Samuel Epstein’s important book – The Politics of Cancer. Both will give you perspective about an industry that was built on deception, and continues unabated - fueled by the ever increasing funding by the pharmaceutical industry. Here are, however – my levels of frustration.
#1 – The Cancer Industry would lead us to believe that specific tests such as mammograms are “necessary” to diagnose breast cancer early. I have always has my reservations about putting a body part into an X-ray and being told that it is valuable, outside of looking for broken bones. Remember in 2009 when the US Preventive Services Task Force study called into question the effectiveness of mammograms for women under 40, as the risks outweighed the benefits? (and the cancer industry had a cow-shit fit). Well – two recent studies now point to the fact that mammograms don’t work well. A report comparing mammograms to self assessment found that out of the number of women in both groups tests, the number of positive tests for cancer in the mammogram group was 6.9%, and in the self assessment group, 7.2%. No difference. A Canadian National Breast Screening study followed women for 25 years, and found more cancers in the women who received the mammograms. According to Steven Woloshin, a Dartmouth professor of Health Policy – “we may be diagnosing and treating unnecessarily”. Like other types of studies – American doctors don’t agree with the results (flawed results, useless to draw conclusions). I see this as more of an issue of “you would be taking away dollars from my practice” type of disagreement than anything else. Most of these early detection tests lead directly to medical procedures. Call them the “gateway drugs” to cancer medicine. You fail the mammogram – you get a biopsy. You fail the biopsy – you get a partial mastectomy, and so on and so forth. (see figure below):
There needs to be a better way to image tissue – whether MRI or thermography, that will give a positive diagnosis (vs. a false positive) and most importantly – a blood test that will detect a breast cancer tumor marker so these types of early detection diagnostics may become obsolete. I doubt it, however, as companies such as Siemans and GE have too much to lose.
#2 – The Cancer Industry and the FDA spent almost 20 years trying to destroy the reputation of Dr. Stanislaw Burzinski and his antineoplastin therapies. After a win in both the Supreme Court in 2000 vs. the FDA and a 2012 decision against the Texas Medical Boards, Dr. Burzinski’s therapies should be able to stand up against any other type of medical therapy. However – a quick look on the internet will show that the top search engine tags for Dr. Burzinski show just how deep the animosity goes. Most – if not all oncology-related sites state that his antineoplastin therapies have no value, studies were not done correctly, patients were overcharged for treatments (see my section below), and had IRB issues with patient consent.
This may be the most visible of many types of cases against CAM practitioners and their therapies. Not that I’m a fan of some types of alternative therapies (see section #4 below) – but a recent report that over 75% of physicians would NOT undergo chemotherapy if diagnosed with cancer is a telling tale as to the efficacy of most type of chemotherapy.
In this case those in the FDA who knowingly went after Dr. Burzinski, tried to steal his patents on antineoplastins, sent moles into his clinic to steal his files and other information – should be indicted and sent to jail. Yet another instance of your government going after those who don’t play lock, stock, and barrel with the medical community. Burzinski has a 70% success rate for specific types of brain cancers (he doesn’t treat all cancer types), but that’s voodoo medicine for some.
#3 – The Cancer Industry is charging ever-increasing amounts for drugs that may not be effective
One third of cancer patients have to mortgage their homes to pay for their treatments. Really? In this day and age, with the advancements in medicine we charge so much for treatments and drugs that people have to sell of their properties.
According to Allison Levy in TakePart.com: Overall, cancer drug prices are skyrocketing. Of the 12 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for various cancer conditions in 2012, 11 were priced above $100,000 for a year of treatment. Writing in an op-ed in the New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/opinion/a-hospital-says-no-to-an-11000-a-month-cancer-drug.html> in October 2012, three physicians at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center noted that “the typical new cancer drug coming on the market a decade ago cost $4,500 per month (in 2012 dollars); since 2010 the median price has been around $10,000.”
So we don’t really care that we’re making patients homeless – as long as they pay for their treatments. In case many people don’t know – cancer is the only branch of medicine that has CPT coding (medical billing codes for payment for services) for experimental trials. That’s right. You can be selected for a clinical trial for your cancer to test an experimental drug that has not been approved by the FDA (not that that matters much regarding cancer – see above), and your doctor will still receive reimbursement for that protocol from insurance, AND charge you a co-pay for services and “products”. This has got to be one of the most absurd issues in medicine. While ALL other drugs need to be approved, and many clinical trials are performed prior to submission for approval for reimbursement – cancer gets to step to the head of the class and get funding prior to that process. Of course, this may change in 2015 and beyond with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act - which basically states that drugs, vaccines, and medical devises can now be approved by the FDA by using anecdotal evidence rather than randomized clinical trials. This is exactly the issue that most mainstream medical associations took with CAM - that they were never "stringent" enough. Now it seems as though the bar is continuing to be lowered for allopathic medicine. Thankfully - those in CAM still use strict standards for herbs, vitamins, and complementary care.
It doesn’t even matter that the drug may turn out to be worthless – you still have to pay for it. The amount of money for many types of medical services (such as chronic home hospice, end stage renal disease, etc.) are skyrocketing.
As many patients are sucked into the system immediately after diagnosis, they have little time to go over their options. Part of the system itself is killing patients, as the stress they are under both during and after their treatment to pay for all off the bills relating to their treatment is reason enough to look for a better way to treat this disease.
#4 – The Cancer Industry fails to acknowledge the benefits of Integrative Medicine – even though many of these practices work better than chemotherapy.
An interesting movie in 2013 was The Dallas Buyer's Club - with Matthew McConnaughey - who played a street-wise wrangler diagnosed with HIV who cut through the red tape of the medical profession to "sell" vitamins and drugs to AIDS patients - helping them live longer (and undercutting current FDA trials) for a buck. There are currently many types of alternative medicines that do work to reduce cancer symptoms, improve outcomes, and even cure the disease - that are not noted by cancer. I could rattle them off - but they are already listed in many web sites (see a couple below). When the marriage of western oncology and CAM truly meet - we will see progress against premature death and suffering in cancer patients.
Epstein, S. The Politics of Cancer 1979. Sierra Club Books, New York
Proctor, RH. The Cancer Wars. 1995. Harper Collins Publishers, New York