Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chemo doesn't work?

A couple of days ago, one of my cousins shared this on Facebook.

According to this, chemotherapy doesn't work 97% of the time...

My cousin's mom has suffered from breast cancer and I know he's had other relatives who have gotten cancer and eventually died.  It seems to be hereditary for his mother's family (her husband is my dad's brother).  But for some reason, he decided to share this video with the comment that pharmaceutical companies and doctors are really just greedy and "in it for the money".  My cousin makes a living as a professional musician in Nashville and probably has little to no experience with medical care other than being an occasional recipient and observing friends and family members receiving it.  His opinion is probably not based on facts, but emotion, anecdotes, and personal experiences.

One of my other cousins, a woman in her sixties who lost both of her parents to cancer, chimed in on the thread about chemo, saying that she agreed that chemo drugs were nothing but poison sold to the public as a means of simply keeping them sick and making money.  This other cousin is an organic farmer.  She grows and sells organic produce.  So, if I wanted to, I could probably make the same claim that she does about big pharma.  Her business depends on people believing that organic food is curative.  She's kind of selling the same thing big pharma is.  The one difference is that everyone has to eat in order to live while prescription drugs are only necessary for a portion of the population.  But one doesn't have to eat organic food to avoid starvation.  Part of my cousin's livelihood involves selling people on the idea that organic produce is always better.

I will add that I'm not really fond of this particular cousin.  She's one of those people who comes across as really nice, but if you look deeper, there's an undercurrent of bullshit.  She's the type of person who will be nice to your face, but secretly disdain you.  I could be wrong about her, but that's the impression I've always gotten.  A few years ago, I discovered that she blocked me on Facebook.  Then, years later when my dad died, she re-friended me.  I always got the sense that she did it because she felt like she should, not because she actually has any regard for me.  I suppose I should have just ignored her request, but you know how it is when you're dealing with family, right?  This cousin is also a devout Christian and is always posting religious crap.  She also probably doesn't appreciate my egregious use of the f word.

I can't say that there isn't some greed involved with medicine.  The practice of medicine is very much a business.  However, some of the accusations made in the video are pretty serious and there aren't any real sources to back them up.  After a couple of minutes of watching, I started feeling skeptical.  Still, other people seem to believe what naturopath Peter Glidden is claiming in his interview.  I've seen this video being passed around Facebook with many people, probably quite a few who have watched their loved ones suffer from cancer, thinking that the claims made are true.  Snopes says otherwise.

I have a little more faith in traditional medicine than my cousins do, although I will admit that I never go to see doctors unless I'm about to die.  I just don't like going to doctors.  They make me very nervous.  It's not because I think they're trying to make a buck off of me.  I think it's mainly because I was traumatized by a doctor.  Rationally, I know that not every physician is going to hurt me, but I still feel panicky when I'm faced with the prospect of going to see a doctor.  Still, if I do see a doctor, I will definitely consider their advice without automatically assuming that they're crooks.

Just like not all doctors are harmful like the one who traumatized me, not all doctors are simply hoping to score a quick buck.  Besides that, an equally powerful force in medical care is the insurance business, whose job it is to keep costs down.  If there is truth that doctors are getting "kickbacks" for prescribing chemo, why aren't we hearing a lot of noise from health insurance companies?

People go into medicine for all sorts of reasons.  I can't imagine that someone solely focused on making money would choose medicine as a career.  It costs a lot of money to become a doctor.  Once you're finished with your training, you have to have malpractice insurance.  And you also deal with patients who can't or won't pay, which drives up costs for everyone.  The training is brutal and the hours can be long and thankless.  Yes, there are greedy, corrupt doctors out there, but there are assholes everywhere.  Look around.  And again, while pharmaceutical companies are powerful and perhaps greedy, so are health insurance companies.  They are at war with each other.  My cousin the organic farmer doesn't like health insurance, either.  Hope she's never in a catastrophic accident with no ability to pay for her medical care.

I guess my point is that when it comes to videos like the one above, it makes sense to take a good look at the hard evidence and not just emotional anecdotes from the uninformed.  Most people hate the idea of having chemotherapy, and for very good reason.  Chemo can be brutal.  It's ineffective against a lot of cancers and can make life hell for those it does treat.  But it doesn't make sense that doctors who prescribe chemo are simply out to make money while their patients needlessly suffer and die.  Many doctors are also a little bit narcissistic, which means that when their patients die, it reflects poorly on them.  It just doesn't make sense to me that cancer docs only care about money.

I thought about sharing the Snopes take on this video, but decided I didn't feel like opening a can or worms today.  It's raining and I have enough on my mind as it is. 


  1. It's interesting that you posted this now. The last time I was at my parents' home, for some reason my mom said something about believing as a child that chemo was pointless because people usually did die of cancer in the early 70's. It was often sort of a one-size-fits-all sort of treatment back then and wasn't quite so customized for the particular variety of cancer being treated. Patients suffered horrible side effects from it, and there were as many remedies for the side effects back then. Actually, it was (and still is) often the chemo rather than the cancer itself that kills the patient unless the patient has given up on treatment. Most oncologists, when they know it's a lost cause otherwise, will treat cancer aggressively. Doing such might possibly be successful, where a conservative approach is sure to kill the patient. sometimes pneumonia sets in, and the body is too weakened from the effects of the chemo to fight the pneumonia. In almost all of those cases, the cancer would surely have killed the patient without the aggressive treatment anyway, and the death probably would have been more protracted and painful than the death from pneumonia was. And those early chemo treatments, while they didn't necessary prolong lives back in the day, provided researchers with knowledge that allows many patients to survive today. So yeah, the guy is a bit of a pot-stirring idiot.

    You're so right about the pursuit of medicine being a not terribly time-effective or cost-effective way to pursue wealth. A very few doctors become truly wealthy. It's mostly a matter of luck as to who strikes it rich. Most of the rest are financially comfortable at best. And for quite a while they're almost poor, and they work horrendous hours, as you noted. I have to put in roughly 75 hours per week now, and I have to paay a whole lot for the privilege of doing so. There aren't many careers where you work 75 or more hours a week for 2 yearss not just for free, but actually have to pay about 45k year to do so. The you work 80 or more hours a week for a nominal salary for the next three to six years. I may be lucky enough to get through this process without loans, but very few doctors make it through without considerable debt that takes five to ten years to pay off.

    You, too, know all this, of course.

    1. I think for many doctors, it takes a lot longer than five or ten years to pay off those loans. It all depends on their resources, though. I took out loans for college and grad school. When I consolidated my loans in 2002, I owed $57,000. I had 25 years to pay it back.

      Because our financial situation has drastically improved since Bill's ex kids became adults and ex was no longer in charge of his paycheck, we have been aggressively paying off my loan. As it stands now, I'm paid ahead by close to $10,000 and will probably be done with my student loans in three or four years. I am very fortunate, though, that Bill is willing to help me and at least for now, makes enough money so we can pay ahead.

      I have read more than one story of doctors who get trained and then can't find work that pays enough to sustain their bills. I think if your goal is to make money, you're probably better off going into business and being an entrepreneur.

      I guess I can see some desperate doctors doing things strictly for money, but it's really highly unethical to treat healthy patients with chemo for that reason. I sure hope there aren't a lot of doctors like that out there.

  2. I actually meant to say there WEREN'T as many remedies available for the side effects of chemo.

  3. Chemo isn't really a great way for a doctor to make a quick buck, anyway. Much of what a patient or insurance carrier pays goes to the drug manufacturer. I'm sure there are rogue doctors out there who have recommended the treatment for their own financial gain just like there are doctors who have removed perfectly good appendices, but it's not the most lucrative way to scam a patient. Of course an oncologist will lose some patients, but anytime it happens, the oncologist has to deal with the post mortem panel. He or she has to justify all treatments, and the panel has access to all lab work, radiology results, etc. If a doctor were routinely killing patients with unnecessary chemo, which would eventually happen if he or she were prescribing much of it, he or she would lose hospital privileges, his or her insurance carrier, and possibly even his or her medical license. Again, I'm sure it's been done, but as a systemic means of financial gain for a physician, it shouldn't get by all the checks and balances repeatedly.

    1. The average person hasn't a clue about any of this.


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