A Moment of Science

Is Modern Medicine Working?

Despite the huge strides medicine has made in terms of fighting cancer, there are more cancers around today than ever before, and their incidence is rising as well. Does this mean modern medicine is failing? Are we throwing away precious money by searching for a cure?

Before we answer these questions, we should ask if they even make sense. Sure, the overall number of cancers is rising, but this isn’t an indicator that medicine is failing. You see, most of these cancers affect the older segment of the population almost exclusively. To get them, you need to survive to old age in the first place. Sure, two-hundred years ago cancer was relatively rare, but then again, most people didn’t even make it into their fifties.

Modern medicine, along with better living conditions and healthier diets, enables many people to live into their seventies and eighties. Deaths due to infectious diseases like smallpox and polio have declined, and formerly fatal conditions like diabetes and heart disease can be kept in check. Plus, surgical techniques developed over the last century or so mean that you can expect to survive the operating table.

Because people are living longer and don’t die from other things, medicine is now faced with the challenge of fighting a whole slew of new conditions–like cancer–that are brought on by aging and genetics. The fact that the pattern of health and illness is constantly changing is actually evidence that medical research is doing its job. What’s more, thanks to laboratory and clinical research, people diagnosed with cancer have more treatment options and are surviving longer than ever before.

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