What if the cure for cancer were discovered tomorrow?

| July 27, 2011

There is a quote I heard or saw a number of years ago that says something like "Medicine, the only profession that labors incessantly to destroy the reason for its own existence".

Recently ESPN went through a telethon for the Jimmy V Foundation and the ESPY awards and celebration always receive mention of Coach Jim Valvano and his famous "Never Give Up" speech.  

Occasionally, I think of Dr. Randy Pausch and his "Last Lecture" speech.  

These men and countless others, both patients, families, friends and providers have strived to raise money to find cancer cures.  

What if the cure for cancer were discovered tomorrow?  And the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers, researchers, organizers, physicians, politicians, deans and bureaucrats saw to it that a cure could be found.

Of course, one of the reasons a cure for cancer has not been discovered despite countless hours and trillions in funding worldwide is that cancer is not a single disease, it is very heterogeneous, even among cancers that involve the same organ or organ system.

For the sake of argument what if the cures for colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer were discovered tomorrow?

How long would it be before the cure was validated by groups outside those making the initial claim and the product brought to market?  

Would the cure treat only those diagnosed with the disease or could it be taken to prevent the disease?

Ask this question of anyone in passing (at least for me when I talk to folks in healthcare, laboratories, fellow pathologists) and you will hear "I would be out of a job".  But would they?  

What would a cure do to the economics of healthcare as it pertains to oncology diagnostics, therapeutics, oncologic surgery, radiation and management of known complications of the disease and its treatments? 

What effect would the saved lives that may have been lost due to population statistics and what impact would that have on other diseases and medical specialties?  Fewer oncology visits may mean increased cardiology referrals as one example. Would it be too late for me to do a cardiology fellowship?

Future posts will try to tackle some of these hypothetical scenarios based on known facts, figures, costs and population models.  If you know of any good sources, please let me know.



Category: Pathology News

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