The Never-Ending War on Cancer
After almost a century, cancer is still the No. 2 cause of death in the U.S. Why?
You'd think someone, at some point, would ask why so much money has been allocated to cancer research over the years, with so little impact on cancer mortality. After almost a century, cancer is still the No. 2 cause of death in the U.S. Why?
Cancer research is important and should, of course, go on. But let's not kid ourselves that it's been cost-effective, because by almost any definition, it hasn't been. Since President Nixon declared a War on Cancer in 1971, we've dumped $500 billion into the conflict—and the cancer death rate has hardly budged.
I use the word "cancer" as if it's one disease. It isn't, of course. Like "heart disease," cancer is actually a diverse assortment of horrors. But it's customary to count it as one disease in discussions of mortality in this country, so that we can point at it and say "Cancer is the Number Two cause of death in America," and then presidents can declare war on it, $10 billion a year in taxpayers' money can be set aside for research on it (approximately $500 billion in 2012 dollars spent since Nixon declared war) so that a $50-billion-a-year commercial industry of toxic therapies (some of which cost patients $10,000 a month) can be built around it, and meanwhile irrationally exuberant futurists can talk of achievable immortality in our lifetime (with arguments that don't even come close to passing the straight-face test) when there's no cancer cure in sight.
It might do exuberant futurists some good to spend a little time pondering the fact that roughly $20,000 in anti-cancer research money has been spent for every single person in the U.S. who has died of cancer in the last 40 years; and yet cancer is still the No. 2 cause of death in America; and after it's gone, after it's cured once and for all, this No. 2 Cause of Death, we will have extended human life a grand total of (drum roll, please) a whopping 3.3 years (loud cymbal-crash).
If you're wondering where I got the "3.3 years" figure, it comes straight from the U.S. Decennial Life Tables for 1989-91 (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Volume 1, Number 4).
I'm not suggesting that all research needs to be cost-justified. Cancer research needs to go on, regardless of whether cures are found. But if the goal is to help people live longer, there are more cost-effective ways of getting there than throwing half a trillion dollars (in 40+ years) at cancer research. One thing the government could do is give every smoker who wants one a free e-cigaret. (Lung cancer accounts for 20% of Medicare's $10 billion/yr cancer payout.) Another high-impact measure would be to give every American who wants it a free yearly personal allotment of mouthwash, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. (Periodontal disease and edentulous status are serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.) The point is, not every worthwhile public health initiative has to involve a multi-hundred-billion-dollar War on Something.
Americans and Wars. You'd think we'd learn.
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?
Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.
- Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
- The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
- Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.
- It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
- Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.