Conventional Medicine and Cancer

Conventional Medicine is Losing the War on Cancer

The number of new cancers reported annually has increased steadily since the 1960s, as have cancer-related mortality rates for a variety of cancers. In 1900, a mere 3% of deaths were attributed to cancer, yet today, that number has jumped by eight times—to 24%. To put this in perspective, this is an 800% increase in less than a century.

The National Cancer Institute reports a 28% rise in the incidence of childhood cancers from 1950 to 1988. Against some of the more common cancers in the United States—lung, liver, pancreas, brain, and bone, as well as advanced cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate—little or no progress has been made in conventional medicine's expensive "War on Cancer" since it was declared in 1971 by then-president Richard Nixon.

Cancer is the number one health concern of every American, and for good reason. Each year, about 1.3 million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer and more than half this number will probably die from the disease or its treatment. That's about one American life lost to cancer every 45 seconds. "Despite some gains, cancer death rates remain unacceptably high, and the disease will kill 554,740 people in the U.S. this year," wrote J. Madeleine Nash in a special edition of Time magazine that summarized conventional cancer treatments.

Cancer now kills more children between the ages of three and 14 than any other illness. Of greater concern is the fact that the numbers of both new cancer cases and deaths continue to rise. From 1950 to 1980, there was an 8% increase in cancer deaths, but from 1975 to 1989, the number of new cancer cases reported each year increased 13 % and the mortality rate rose 7%. Although mortality rates for a few less-common cancers declined, overall rates have continued to rise."

A look at individual cancers paints a more ominous picture. From 1973 to 1987, melanoma (a form of skin cancer) increased by 83%, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by 51%, and lung cancer by 32%. Of these, lung cancer has become the leading cancer killer among men and women alike, surpassing breast cancer, which was the leading cause of death among women until 1986. Specifically, for the incidence of lung cancer in women, between 1973-1990, there was a 100% increase. In addition, rates of brain, kidney, breast, and prostate cancers have also risen.

Regarding prostate cancer, one estimate cites a 600% increase since 1985 in new cases—"the fastest rise in cancer detection ever recorded." One out of every five males born in the 1990s are likely to develop prostate cancer, compared to only one out of eight females who will probably develop breast cancer. The 30-year trend (1960-62 to 1990-92) for deaths from lung cancer is up 85% for men and up 438% for women; up 29% for prostate; up 4% for breast cancer; up 12% for female pancreatic cancer. The rate of death from some cancers has dropped over this same period: colorectal, -9%; male pancreas, -5%; male leukemia, -9%; female colorectal, -31%; and ovary, -8%.

Breast cancer is perhaps the best example of the changing global picture of cancer. For many years, the incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer have been highest in the U.S. and Northern Europe and lowest in Asia and Africa. In recent years, steep increases have been reported in Asian and Central European populations; thus the differences in rates between such countries as Japan and the U.S. is much less than previously. The annual incidence of breast cancer worldwide is predicted to be more than one million cases.

Scientists expect to see a further increase in cancer mortality rates. They also predict an estimated 10 million cancer patients and survivors alive in the U.S. The hardest hit will be the elderly, who in the coming decades are expected to experience increases in incidence rates for all cancers, but particularly for those of the colon, rectum, pancreas, stomach, lung, bladder, and prostate; half of these people will probably die within five years. Although these are dismal forecasts, they should not be taken as guaranteed outcomes, given that they do not include successful alternative medicine therapies as part of the equation. They do indicate, however, that conventional medicine has failed to stem the tide of this disease.

According to John C. Bailar III, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McGill University in Toronto, Canada, conventional medicine is decidedly losing the war on cancer. In 1993, he declared: "In the end, any claim of major success against cancer must be reconciled with this figure," referring to the steady increase in cancer deaths between 1950 and 1990. "I do not think such reconciliation is possible and conclude that our decades of war against cancer have been a qualified failure. Whatever we have been doing, it has not dealt with the broadly rising trend in mortality."

Dr. Bailar's data, confirmed by the National Cancer Institute, holds that overall U.S. cancer death rates (adjusted for changes in the size and composition of the population with respect to age) went up by 7% between 1975 and 1990. From 1950 to 1990, the increase was from about 158 deaths to about 172 deaths per 100,000 people. In a review article discussing trends in cancer epidemiology, even as stalwart a defender of the medical status quo as Scientific American admitted of cancer that it is "a war not won." The casualty report "from the war on cancer shows that the effort has not slowed deaths from the disease in the U.S."

Cancer is crippling America's health-care system. Despite spending over $35 billion on cancer research in the last 25 years, conventional medicine has made little progress in understanding the underlying causes for the rapid rise of cancer rates or in finding safe and effective treatments. The cost to patients and taxpayers for years of waging "war" against cancer has been one trillion dollars." In pursuit of the elusive goal of a cancer cure, Americans made an estimated 50 million cancer-related visits to doctors and were exposed to countless diagnostic procedures to find out whether they had the disease.

In recent years, about 10% of annual health-care expenditures in the U.S.—an unbelievable sum of $96 billion annually—has been spent on cancer treatment alone. In appreciating these numbers, one must also factor in that the direct cost of hospital care for cancer is considerably higher than the cost of hospital care for other diseases. Most (83%) of the direct expenditures for cancer care are attributable to breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer, in that order.

How does this translate for the person in need of cancer care? The average conventional treatment charge to Medicare (for all types) is $14,205 for the initial three months; after this, the cost is just over $800 monthly. For the final six months of "terminal treatment" (for cancer patients who don't survive), the average Medicare charge is approximately $23,000. These staggering costs have little to show for them in terms of having successfully stemmed the tide of human death and suffering from cancer.

Spokespersons for conventional cancer care frequently tout five-year survival rates as indicative of progress and money wisely spent. However, a critical analysis of these numbers reveals such claims to be illusory. The public relations experts of the American Cancer Society claim that more cancer patients are living at least five years after their diagnosis than ever before. The facts are that between 1974 and 1976 and 1981 and 1987, the five-year survival rates rose only 2%, from 49% to 51%, and for cancers of the liver, lung, pancreas, bone, and breast, rates are about the same as they were in 1965.

The five-year mark is used as a yardstick for "cure" by conventional oncologists. It doesn't matter if you die one day after the five-year mark, you are still counted among the cases cured. Since many people die not long after five years, this can be a highly misleading statistic. For example, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is about 75%, but the extended survival rate is less than 50%. Similarly, while the five-year survival for prostate cancer is about 70%, the ten-year survival rate is only about 3 5 %.

Even the small overall increase in five-year survival for all cancers may be an exaggeration, since many diagnostic tests in use today enable earlier diagnosis, which makes the survival time only appear longer than in the past. For instance, consider the woman whose breast cancer is diagnosed an average of three years earlier because of mammography; today she might live for seven years. In 1985, using the older diagnostic and treatment tools, this same woman would have appeared to live only four years. Nothing has changed in terms of the effectiveness of conventional therapy, and yet the breast cancer patient appears to live longer, owing to the improved screening measures. The "success" exists only on paper.

These statistics, flawed and misleading as they are already, do not factor in the far longer survival times commonly produced by physicians using alternative modalities of cancer care. Nor do they account in any way for the radical degree to which alternative medicine applied to cancer care could profoundly shift the outcomes from dismal to successful. A rational person will ask why this isn't already so. Powerful economic and political forces are arrayed against alternative medicine—generally, and for cancer specifically—precisely because of its promise of remarkable success at less cost.

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