Junkfood Science: Why isn't there a cure?

June 29, 2007

Why isn't there a cure?

Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine and Associate Editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, has a thoughtful article at NeuroLogica on why, with all of the money going towards research, have we not yet found a cure for cancer. He looks at the most common misconceptions about cancer and addresses theories that there is no incentive to find a cure. This information can help people from getting taken in by someone claiming to have a miracle cure or treatment.

He concludes his long article by saying:

The overall reality is that the standard of scientific medicine is not a monolithic entity, controlled by any one institution, agency, or industry. It is a complex and dynamic set of many forces and interests. It is ultimately driven by science, which is a transparent and public process, and prevents any big brother type of control (this is partly why it is so important that healthcare be based upon science).

Cancer is a very difficult type of disease to treat, and the public has a very distorted view of the nature of cancer and of medical scientific progress in general. This has lead to unrealistic expectations of progress in curing cancer, which then in turn leads to thoughts that cancer research is somehow not working.

I find the same to be true in medicine in general – the public thinks of scientific progress in terms of dramatic “breakthroughs.” Media hype feeds this misconception. The reality is that medical scientific progress is largely a series of very small steps, with a cumulative effect of slow steady improvement in treatments. We have not cured Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis Parkinson’s disease, and many other diseases as well. But treatments are slowly improving. Slow steady progress does not make good headlines, however, so the myth of miracle medical breakthroughs will likely continue to be promoted by the media.

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