By Professor Dr. BM Hegde
The great 19th century physician, Robert Hutchinson, had a daily prayer which ran: “God! Give me deliverance from treating sick human beings as cases, not letting the well alone and making my treatment worse than his disease.”
More than one hundred fifty years later we are just doing exactly the opposite in the field of medicine. Professor David Wotton, of Lester University, in his new book Bad Medicine: doctors harming patients since Hippocrates gives graphic descriptions of what doctors do. The efforts of Dr James Wakeley in starting a new science journal, The Lancet, in 1823 or George Bernard Shaw writing the play The Doctor’s Dilemma only had marginal effect, if at all.
I was in Mumbai on 8 November 2013 to inaugurate a blood cancer specialists meet event at The Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, which, for a change, was well organised and ran with clockwork precision, with Professor MB Agrawal of the Bombay Hospital fame as the man in charge. The highlight of the meet was the absence of celebrities and politicians on the inaugural dais. It was a large crowd of Indian and International cancerologists of all hues and colour. The food was lavish, to say the least. The opulent hotel ambiance was a bonus.
My main thrust in the inaugural address was to appeal to them to go back to the happy days of doctoring of Hutchinson’s era. Hippocrates had also told us to be careful in doctoring to “cure rarely, comfort mostly but to console always.” I had Professor Bidwae, a Padma Shree awardee and director of Tata Cancer Hospital on the dais with me as the event’s Guest of Honour. He called my thinking as ‘scepticaemia’ with very low infectivity. He also urged the new generation of cancerologists not to be just textbook worms but to keep their eyes and ears open to the buzzing activity going on in their arena. It reminded me of what Churchill had said many years ago that truth was just about pulling up its pants while falsehood and mystery had completed a full circle of the globe, or something to this effect.
The so called cancer has become a death warrant to the hapless victims. Unfortunately, today medical diagnosis has become the biggest menace, more so in the cancer area where there is now a plea from the world’s apex institute, the American Cancer Institute, to change the diagnosis of cancer; more than 70% of the so-called cancers today do not really grow to kill the owner. Dr Harold Varmus, the Nobel Laureate new director had put together a group of nine experts to sort out those 71% cancers of today as non-cancers.
This includes about half of breast cancers, large section of thyroid, prostate, and other solid tumour cancers. Hopefully, they will soon be labelled benign. Organ-based diagnosis seems to be the bane as there has been a new understanding of human illnesses, with quantum physics opening new vistas in science of the human body, about which I have written elsewhere. Professor Mary Tinnetti of the Yale University has called for an end to this disease era.
These days, young and enthusiastic cancerologists have become astrologers! As soon as they see a scan or biopsy report, both of which have little scientific standing (as scans are shadows and biopsy reports are nothing but tombstones of dead cells), they pronounce their judgements on the future life span of those hapless human beings: “You only have six months to live without immediate chemotherapy, radiation and mutilative surgery.” How on earth do those medical astrologers know the future is anyone’s guess. In quantum physics there is no tomorrow; it is yet to be born. But doctors have been predicting the unpredictable future of their patients all the time, observed Professor William Firth, physicist at the Strathclyde University in Glasgow in the British Medical Journal way back in 1991. I had made a fervent plea to those wise doctors in the meeting to desist from such unscientific feat. This is all the more important as the very fear of cancer kills for sure.
A significant study published in the prestigious Nature Medicine journal shows how our treatment with chemical drugs, at times, makes tumours grow faster and bigger. This was proved at least in prostate cancers. These cancers should be left alone for the patient to live his normal life as they outlive man in most cases. Drugs make the tumour genes change their protein expression, thus making the cell environment so hostile to the cell that the latter induces cancer pluripotent stem cells survive the hostile environment.
The foundation in science is very shaky and cancer specialists should always be careful in announcing the death warrant to their patients. The science of cancer is so weak that out of the 53 notable studies on cancer science in the last five years, only 11% could be replicated and reproduced. The remaining 89% of papers were not replicable and so are not scientific. Interestingly, false studies were funded by vested interests in the industry.
The 11% that was replicable was independently funded. So, I appealed to them that they should not to be overconfident of curing any cancer. The war on cancer, so proudly declared by president Richard Nixon with a budget of $100 million, is yet to be won. They are still fighting that war on cancer just as they were fighting other wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, in Pakistan.
The last but not the least, I also appealed them to be parsimonious in their effort to help patients. Money makes man behave irrationally. Doctors are trained to look after the health of the public and not just to make a business out of it. Earning money by authentic means is no sin.
Finally, they were reminded that doctoring is a holy vocation and not just a wealthy business. What we do is adopt the ‘health-scare’ system. We have large controlled studies waiting to be authenticated. The poorest of the poor with cancer many times survive to ripe old age unmindful of their diagnoses as they do not have money to see doctors and go to hospitals.
Our best effort should be to prevent cancer as the latter is highly preventable as seen in smoking control for the fall in lung cancer deaths. We live in the sea of carcinogens in life, from chemically damaged foods and water, inhospitable environmental pollution and absence of any control. Patients might think that doctors are not active in prevention as that might break their rice bowl!
”Given one well-trained physician of the highest type he will do better work for a thousand people than ten specialists.” -William James Mayo
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society’s Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London.)
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