The Cancer Industry: Hype vs. Reality

John Horgan in Scientific American:

First, some basic facts to convey the scale of the problem. Cancer is the second most lethal disease in the U.S., behind only heart disease. More than 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and more than 600,000 died. Over 15 million Americans cancer survivors are alive today. Almost four out of ten people will be diagnosed in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Cancer has spawned a huge industrial complex involving government agencies, pharmaceutical and biomedical firms, hospitals and clinics, universities, professional societies, nonprofit foundations and media. The costs of cancer care have surged 40 percent in the last decade, from $125 billion in 2010 to $175 billion in 2020 (projected). Cancer-industry boosters claim that investments in research, testing and treatment have led to “incredible progress” and millions of “cancer deaths averted,” as the homepage of the American Cancer Society, a nonprofit that receives money from biomedical firms, puts it. A 2016 study found that cancer experts and the media often describe new treatments with terms such as “breakthrough,” “game changer,” “miracle,” “cure,” “home run,” “revolutionary,” “transformative,” “life saver,” “groundbreaking” and “marvel.”

…What’s the reality behind the hype? “No one is winning the war on cancer,” Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia, asserts in her 2019 book The First Cell: And the Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last. Claims of progress are “mostly hype, the same rhetoric from the same self-important voices for the past half century.” Trials have yielded improved treatments for childhood cancers and specific cancers of the blood, bone-marrow and lymph systems, Raza notes. But these successes, which involve uncommon cancers, are exceptions among a “litany of failures.”

More here.