Cancer and the culture of desperation

April 15, 2013 Sheldon Z. Goldberg, M.D.

Cancer “diagnoses” are popularly characterized as death sentences preceded by periods of horrible suffering. This characterization, popularized by media of all types (from movie to the pages of the New York Times), is in fact what motivates much of the real problem of cancer … desperation.

This desperation, carefully cultivated, motivates extraordinary efforts and expenditures and even helps make the ads that appear in the media  for MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering worth what these institutions pay for them. In this way, the news and the advertising feed off of each other, but they're not the only ones. There are other forces willing and eager to take advantage of this pain: drug companies charging astronomical fees are on the top of this list. The average cutting-edge pill to fight cancer now costs $300 per day — or $100,000 per year.

What if the conditions for success could be known? Perhaps more important, what if the conditions that assure failure were clear? The savings in suffering and money would be enormous. We need a revolutionary new approach to cancer, incorporating the innovations of this century — open source data might be a good place to start.

The culpability for the cultivation of desperation lays with no individual in particular, no company in particular, and certainly no newspaper in particular. Yet all of these are often the agencies of fear, false hope and misdirection when it comes to cancer. Realizing the problem is the first step to a solution.   The reorganization of clincial data, as recently suggested in the Jounal of Clincal Oncology, is another.

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