Where Did We Go Wrong?

We have been brought up to believe the United States has the finest medical system in the world. We have the most advanced, modern, skilled physicians with the best equipment and latest drugs. Apparently that is untrue.

The National Cancer Policy Board stated what poor treatment Americans are receiving for cancer. Many doctors are simply not knowledgeable about the most recent treatment developments, according to their report. Research shows, for example, that Tamoxifen is the best treatment for post-menopausal women with breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes, but only 60% of such women receive the drug.

Dr. David Lawrence, former CEO of Kaiser, quoted from an Institute of Medicine study of health care quality in the United States, “Serious and widespread quality problems exist throughout American medicine. These problems, which may be classified as underuse, overuse or misuse, occur in small and large communities alike, in all parts of the country, and with approximately equal frequency in managed care and fee-for-service systems of care. Very large numbers of Americans are harmed as a direct result.” He goes on to discuss a Harvard study from which “one can conclude that the third-leading cause of death in the United States are fatal accidents that result from the misuse of the extraordinary medical technologies that we now have available. These accidents are responsible for over 400,000 deaths each year. . . two-thirds of these accidents are preventable.” “In spite of the evidence that physicians work more safely and effectively in teams with other health professionals, more than three-quarters of them practice in solo or small single-specialty groups.” “An estimated 50 to 75 percent of practicing physicians do not use currently available scientific evidence in the care for patients.” He points out that “it costs less to do the right thing.”

Dr. Richard Morrison, a radiation oncologist and Executive Director of the Radiarium Foundation, stated in a letter to Dr. Richard Klausner, then Director of the National Cancer Institute, that according to his calculations based on results achieved in Sweden, cancer mortality would be reduced 62 per 100,000 by having patients reviewed by an independent medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and surgeon prior to treatment. This would save 167,400 lives annually in the United States!

Ernest and Isadora Rosenbaum, oncologists and authors of an article in Coping with Cancer magazine , wrote, “Over 50 percent of persons diagnosed with it (cancer) can be cured, and the rate increases to 75 percent when good preventive and diagnostic procedures are followed.” In other words, they imply that prompt, proper treatment could reduce cancer mortality 50%!

Where did we go wrong? We have certainly poured enough money into research to find cancer cures. There is talk that we have a surplus of physicians. With computers today, information is available world wide. The problem boils down to the fact that cancer is a unique disease and doctors are human.

If cancer is not treated properly the first time, it grows geometrically and often there is no second chance. Numerous treatments given initially preclude the proper treatment from being given timely. Cancer is a very complex disease with at least 8 different types of treatments available for various cancers, and often they are given in combinations. Cancer is very rarely, if ever, diagnosed by an oncologist, a physician trained in treating cancer exclusively. The diagnosing physician may want to keep the revenue or refer the patient to a golfing buddy. Or maybe the diagnosing physician does not believe anything can be done, which is even worse, or is pressured by insurance to not treat unless the recovery chances are above a certain percentage.

What can we do about it? We can take two positive steps. First, write your Senators and Representatives in Washington to pass the legislation suggested mandating second opinions. If we can get this accomplished, we will save a lot of  lives and needless suffering.

The second step is that if we know anyone diagnosed with cancer, have them get a qualified, independent second opinion promptly, regardless of prognosis. A multidisciplinary second opinion would be the best and locations it can be obtained by calling the Bloch Cancer Hotline at 800-433-0464 or e-mailing hotline@hrblock.com. If each cancer patient would look out for themselves first, do everything in their power to help themselves, their chance of recovery would be greatly enhanced. And saving their own life is what it is all about.