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Cancer Care and Conspiracy Theories

I’ve heard all about the ‘cancer industry complex’ conspiracy theories from those claiming to know the truth about cancer—even attended their summits, which often advocate refusing standard treatment—and I’m well versed on the history of the Flexner Report, seen as an early power grab by the American Medical Association.

Conspiracy theorists and proponents of alternative cancer cures frequently get the basic lifestyle components right, but even the most well-meaning advocates, and often physicians, can be highly under-informed,  unqualified, and decidedly dangerous. Put simply, alternative cancer treatments, in lieu of ‘proven’ therapies, delivered with curative intent, can be fatal.

Self-regarding, dishonest players exist in all industries. This is highly disturbing when it comes to healthcare, especially cancer care. There is no doubt that there are some convincing actors cleverly disguised as practicing oncologists, drug company-financed scientists, and pharma executives who wish to line their pockets at the expense of actual lives.

Over a dozen years ago, a peer-reviewed article describing why most published research findings are false was published.

In 2010, writer David Freeman wrote a piece in The Atlantic called Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.

However upsetting and confusing the subject of cancer care and research may seem, I can unequivocally report that there is no great cancer cover-up going on.

Cancer Care: Perspective and the Real World

The process through which new cancer treatments are investigated, and ultimately approved, is arduous, expensive, and imperfect. Research is mostly funded by industry—six times as much as received from the federal government. This, in and of itself, can be problematic, but a necessary source of funding in order to make progress.

The oncology industry is not in collusion with the scores of competing pharma companies, in order to suppress new discoveries and therefore feed their coffers by offering non-curative and somewhat-improved therapies.

It just doesn’t work this way.

Solving the cancer epidemic is hard work. Many, like me, believe that the only effective and cost-efficient strategy must place true prevention as the ‘cure’ at the top of the list. Given that prevention can prevent well over 50% of malignant disease, then prevention is critical.

However, cancer prevention is only possible by changing how preventive care and education is compensated for to those who deliver these services. Essentially, prevention must be sustainably funded.

Significant political change is also critical to address our compromised food chain and the environment, which fuels the cancer epidemic. I write more about this here in an open letter to former vice president, and cancer cure champion, Joe Biden.

Credentials, Integrity, and Experience

Over the years I’ve had the distinct honor to work with terrific oncologists, as my personal physicians, as colleagues during my board appointment and ongoing work with the Society for Integrative Oncology—and with the oncologists and scientists I have collaborated with, or otherwise advised, through FON, my consulting company.

With few exceptions, and from my experience, oncologists are incredibly honest and hard-working people. Their job is daunting. The steady stream of medical literature—the latest scientific findings that daily flood inboxes and mailboxes—is a sea of content impossible to keep up with.

These professionals deal with advanced, incurable disease, families in crisis, and death, on a daily basis. They work long hours under significant stress.

Oncologists want to make a difference. This is what they signed up for. They want to provide the best possible care and save lives. Most are empathetic and patient individuals. For those who are not, much of their condition is due to burn-out more than anything else. No, it doesn’t make it more acceptable, it’s just reality.

The cancer investigators and scientists with whom I regularly engage are tirelessly searching for innovative approaches to solving the cancer riddle. The most prominent investigator is my personal hematologist/oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Dr. Lee M. Nadler is dean for translational and clinical research at Harvard Medical School. He also oversees one of the largest cancer research labs in the world.

Dr. Nadler will sometimes work consecutive 15+ hour days over a couple months just to submit a new grant proposal. He eats, sleeps, and breathes cancer research, and is committed to finding the best way to translate findings in the lab to smart clinical application for patients. He is not alone.

An Evolution of Cancer Care

We are having more success with the development and deployment of precision medicine—targeted therapies that have less deleterious side effects than various chemotherapy agents they are starting to replace.

Some innovative therapies are showing incredible results in terms of extending survival time. There are new drugs being used to manage patients with various cancer types that only a short time ago had no plausible therapies, and little hope.

Integrative oncology is also coming into its own. The Society for Integrative Oncology, the leading global academic-based organization, has been busy authoring and publishing peer reviewed clinical guidelines. These guidelines help conventional oncologists understand the science, safety, and efficacy that support a more holistic approach to cancer care.

Mindful Advocacy

Be aware of the significant shortcomings of the medical industry. Question anything that does not make sense to you. Request answers, as many times as it takes, to feel comfortable with the information you receive, in order to make the most informed decisions. But…

…never doubt that the lion’s share of oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, scientists, and others are working tirelessly to find new answers and new options for your particular condition. They do so because they are 100% committed to you, and passionate about improving the human condition.