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Early signs of rogue body cells take years to manifest as symptomatic cancer. In many cases, early detection leads to unnecessary treatment. Only if the immune system fails, should doctors come into the picture
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”—Thomas Jefferson
The word ‘cancer’ is taken almost as a death warrant. I have been trying to demystify this area for a very long time, without much success. Recently, eight cancer researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) came up with startling conclusions: the multitude of so-called early cancers, in fact, do not behave like cancers at all and should not be labelled ‘cancer’; these should be called ‘indolent epithelial lesions’. Small lumps in the thyroid, breast, lung and prostate come under this category.
As soon as the report from NCI was published, ‘specialists’ came out with their opposition. This is the usual response of the industry. The drug industry is very powerful and it does not want expensive drugs to be relegated to the background. It will invent some method of bringing back the drugs to the market. This time around, it might not be that easy, as it has the backing of the whole Institute including its Nobel Laureate director, Dr Harold Varmus. The new wisdom from NCI will go a long way in helping poor patients who, otherwise, suffer under the wrong label of cancer.
This brings me back to my favourite topic: cancer screening. There is nothing called ‘early’ cancer as all cancers start as mutated, rogue body cells and take years to manifest as symptomatic cancer. So, if we detect these cells in their growing phase, we might treat them unnecessarily. The lay public, philanthropic NGOs, and doctors need to be educated in this area to not waste their time and money screening for cancers in asymptomatic stage.
We have lived here for hundreds of thousands of years without the help of screening. If we believe that the modern medical establishment is what keeps us healthy and well, we are mistaken. It is the body’s wisdom that keeps us going. Any disease in its asymptomatic stage is being managed by our in-built doctor—the immune system. It is only in the unlikely event of the immune system failing, that doctors come into the picture to “cure rarely, comfort mostly, but to console always.”
The risk factor theory, much touted as a great idea, has also been shown to be dangerous. The famous MRFIT (multiple risk factor interventional trial) costing millions of taxpayers’ dollars turned out to be a boondoggle, as it was found that there were no risk factors at all. It also showed that while the so-called risk factors (surrogate end points) could be controlled by interventions, the final risk of premature death remains unchanged (real end point). Death is a risk for everyone who gets born! Why not create a new risk factor called pre-death syndrome and treat everyone born with drugs to keep them alive permanently?
There are more than 3,500 species of mammals that live by nature depending on their immune systems for survival. Yet, it is only one mammal—humans—who believe that outside interventions keep us alive. With this conviction, we start to poison our offspring with mercury-laced vaccines as soon as they are born, feed drugs from childhood to control sundry ailments, search for outside intervention every time something goes amiss, and even get wheeled into the intensive care units (ICUs) when we’re old. ICUs have become a necessary evil for the rich and the powerful as an exit route while it is the ICUs that contribute to 90% of profits of US hospitals by keeping dying patients there during the last 10 days of their lives.
Cancer industry is the most profitable and lucrative industry in the sickness-care business. I hope Dr Varmus’s efforts to demystify cancer help the common man. Winston Churchill said that in every opinion there are three things that matter: who gives the opinion, how the opinion is given and what is the opinion. Of the three, Churchill felt, the last is the least important. Now that a Nobel Laureate medical scientist gives the opinion that a village doctor like me has been giving for decades, I hope I get vindicated in India since titles from the West, that too a Nobel, make most of us drool.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.