Another Little Rant: Cancer Care

Every time I read of some new attempt by the government of the day to improve cancer survival rates by setting targets for this, that and the other, my heart quails. With the best will in the world, setting referral or diagnosis targets isn’t necessarily going to change things. Not all cancers announce themselves openly in time for a cure to be attempted, and even medical professionals can misinterpret the signs that a cancer is present. Mistakes happen, and unless one believes they are always avoidable — which I don’t — we are going to have to face up to the fact that late referrals and late diagnoses are going to continue to occur.

Surely a more fruitful approach would be to look again at funding for medical research, not just into cancer, but into a host of deadly diseases that currently offer little or no scope for pharmaceutical companies to make a profit? At the moment our response to most cancers is still slash it, burn it, poison it (surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy), but genetic profiling of tumours and research into the immune system have both begun to suggest potentially useful approaches. The problem is such research is enormously expensive and results do not come all at once.

I am a greedy person, I have two rare diseases, not just one, and research into them is largely the province of university researchers who attract little funding from the pharmaceutical industry or other corporate donors. Diseases with a more emotional pull or wider range, such as breast or prostate cancer, are obviously of more interest. I have no quarrel with that. Whether one person is affected by something or one million, each individual has to come to terms with life as it is. What worries me about the present government’s target-setting is that it is generating both unreal expectations and, in some cases, unhelpful attitudes towards NHS staff. There isn’t an easy solution, and if someone you know and love is dying before your eyes, you will inevitably want the best you can for them. Sometimes, however, the best isn’t what we think is best. One of the differences between a medieval world-view and a more modern one is that in the Middle Ages the group had more importance than the individual. We, by contrast, exalt the individual. I wonder whether we need to re-think that, too?

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8 thoughts on “Another Little Rant: Cancer Care”

  1. Common Sense as ever from you Sister. I have wondered for year why the cause in investigated as much as the cure. Governments too scared and drug companies too greedy perhaps?

    • I don’t think it’s greed, as such. Twenty years’ research may need to be funded by a pharma company before there’s a pay-off in terms of understanding why cancers occur/discovering potential therapies. I don’t know much about genetic profiling, but research on the immune system is contributing to an understanding as to why some people are susceptible to cancer and others aren’t, and may hold out hope of new ways of treating them.

  2. But progress is being made. In September a new Institute of Translational Medicine opens in Birmingham this includes a centre for research into rare diseases & by bring research, clinicians, patients & Industry together aims to reduce the time taken for new treatments to be available to patients. A huge amount of money goes into cancer research & clinicians in other field, such as kidney are rather jealous of this.
    The goal must surely be to reduce the time from diagnosis to treatment, this is where we fail so often in this country, people that can afford to go private will be diagnosed much quicker.

  3. I’m not sure about research, though your point seems reasonable. There are simply areas where profit motives are lacking, and private research must be suplimented or replaced by public efforts. As to your point about the individualism of our age vs the more group orientation of the past, I believe you have your finger on a tremendous problem. Not only Christianity but also other, perhaps every mainstream faith or spiritual tradition, had identified a communion of souls in some sort of deity or ground of being. Our culture increasingly finds a seperation between self and other, and fends for self at the expense of all others.

  4. I agree with Christine, addressing the causes as well as cures. In the U.S. We are allowing untested GMO s to overrun the food supply and we are not to question the environmental toxins.

  5. I wish I had a great thought that would be of comfort. I’ve been a nurse now for 36 years and have seen the changes in those decades. I call it “Revenge of the B Students.” The B being Business and/ or grades. There is the determination that healthcare be run like a business and that the course of any illness runs along a known timeline and that we can control it. It’s not been my experience. I work in ICUs and I have found it to be God’s Time. I do the best I can to move folks along the assembly line of health, but I’m a bit player. There are much higher forces in play and I rail against them often, question them and have a long list of
    WhyDidYouDoThat.

  6. “One of the differences between a medieval world-view and a more modern one is that in the Middle Ages the group had more importance than the individual. We, by contrast, exalt the individual. I wonder whether we need to re-think that, too?” I would agree on both the comment and the question.

    One of my favorite movie quotes “The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few, or the one.” spoken by Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. I think we need to return to that ideal.

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