Treating the symptoms instead of the problem: Is this the American way?
In Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union message he attempts to go out on a high note by pledging to find a cure for cancer. Pardon my sarcasm, but “Seriously?” Just like his “Mapping the Brain” initiative, which I criticized in an earlier blog post, he paints in broad strokes, striving for an unattainable, but crowd—pleasing goal. In a pure nationalism play he says, “Let’s make America the country that cures cancer.” Scientists will tell you that the possibility of curing all cancers is nonexistent. Why? Because most cancers are the result, not of inherited genetic make-up, but rather of extrinsic risk factors, such as smoking, excessive drinking, unhealthy diets and environmental toxins. (Nature, 2015). Authors Wu, et al. state that only 10-30% of risk factors for cancer are intrinsic rather than extrinsic.)
The idea that we could possibly come up with any strategies, including targeted immune system strengthening that allows us to kill our own cancer cells instead of killing them with toxins and/or cutting them out, is simply folly. I was sorry that President Obama passed up the opportunity to note that Black Americans are diagnosed later (often when it is too late for treatment to make any difference) and receive inferior treatment than Whites, even when they are at the same income levels and have private insurance. (Source: The American Cancer Society.) Black lives matter when it comes to medical treatment, too.
So if we are really serious about making a huge change in the number of people who are diagnosed with cancer annually in this country, and eventually die from it, we need to focus on prevention, which includes the extrinsic factors mentioned above and the toxins that we emit every day through air and water pollution. (Don’t get me started on the lead poisoning of children in Flint, MI, resulting from switching from Lake Huron water to polluted river water to save money.)
A more realistic goal for any leader of this country could be “Lets’ make America the country with the lowest incidence of cancer.” But that would require passing tough environmental laws that our legislators have repeatedly refused to do; making people more aware of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle centered on overeating, and/or smoking and drinking. (And, sorry, artisan beers are still alcohol and subject to the same guidelines regarding moderation.)
And, finally, we come full circle to a theme that runs through most, if not all, of my blog posts: The stress and mental health issues that lead to self-destructive behaviors. The intertwined issues of societal contributions to stress (like an unstable economy and ongoing domestic and global violence), as well as workers forced to put in too many hours; and the rage resulting from a world that is seemingly more chaotic and unjust with every passing day, and the unavailability of affordable mental health care, contribute not only to cancer, the largest killer of Americans: heart disease, and, lastly, the rising suicide rate. The sad truth is that we are not a society that prioritizes the welfare of our citizens. We are a society that prioritizes money and power.