What If Doctors Are Thinking About Cancer Treatment All Wrong?

What If Doctors Are Thinking About Cancer Treatment All Wrong?When you receive a cancer diagnosis, you most likely begin thinking about the worst-case scenarios. You are not alone; there are few things more frightening than a cancer diagnosis – except, perhaps, a misdiagnosis. So if you are like most people, you may seek a second opinion to see if a different doctor may have a different viewpoint or treatment plan.

According to the National Cancer Institute, over 600,000 people in the United States will die from cancer by the end of 2023. However, many people are fighting and surviving some of the deadliest forms of cancers because their treatment plans are for long-term care for a chronic condition. As of January 2022, there were over 18 million individuals in the United States who were still alive after having been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

Cancer is still a very serious condition and folks will have challenges to overcome, but it may not be the terminal diagnosis it once was. Part of this, of course, is rooted in better medicines and an overall push toward a healthier lifestyle – but some of it is due to how doctors are now treating cancer. Instead of looking at the illness as something which must be completely eradicated from the body, more and more medical professionals are treating cancer like a chronic condition.

A real-life example of a new kind of treatment

In a recent article published by The Washington Post, a young woman, Kelly Spill, discussed her Stage 3 rectal cancer diagnosis at the age of 24. She remembered immediately thinking that she may die after hearing that she had cancer. However, four years later, she is still alive and thriving.

Spill credits her survival to immunotherapy. The Post reports that she joined a “small clinical trial of intravenous dostarlimab, a relatively new drug designed to block a cancer cell protein that otherwise can elude the immune system. All 14 patients in the trial had a genetically similar form of rectal cancer. After nine treatments, in all 14 cases, their cancers went into remission.”

While not all folks living with cancer will have access to these clinical trials, the rise of immunotherapy is worth watching. Per the American Cancer Society, immunotherapy works in two ways:

  • “Stimulating, or boosting, the natural defenses of your immune system so it works harder or smarter to find and attack cancer cells
  • Making substances in a lab that are just like immune system components and using them to help restore or improve how your immune system works to find and attack cancer cells”

A medical professor who focuses on breast cancer at Stanford University, Lidia Schapira, told the Washington Post that “we’re moving closer to the situation we have with HIV patients, in that today even people with incurable cancers may be living for decades.” She mentioned that she is treating patients who have lived for a long time after their cancer diagnoses, and her colleagues are treating elderly patients who had cancer as children. While she says we are not fully there yet, this is still considered success.

What do the statistics say about cancer?

Although it is estimated that around two million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis by the end of this year, the American Cancer Society reported that there was a 33 percent decline in all cancers since 1991. This means that there were almost four million fewer cancer fatalities in the past three decades. Here are a few impressive statistics worth mentioning:

  • Lung cancer: 58 percent decline for men and 36 percent decline for women since 1990
  • Breast cancer: 43 percent decline since 1989
  • Melanoma: 5 percent decline each year in adults under 50 years of age and 3 percent decline each year in individuals over 50 years of age since 2011

An oncologist, Larry Norton, explains that this progress is due to “better early diagnosis, better imaging, better blood tests, better preventive measures and better treatments.” Part of the “better treatments” is the push toward treating cancer like a chronic disease – one that may never be fully eradicated, but can be managed and controlled, so that folks can live longer lives.

Why do chronic conditions require different treatment plans?

According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, treatment plans and care are based on three assumptions, which are:

  • Different patients need different levels of treatment and care.
  • To find the type of treatment and care that a person needs, their symptoms must be monitored and recorded. In addition, other individuals’ outcomes must be analyzed and recorded.
  • Deciding to progress and move to higher levels of treatment increases the effectiveness of the patient and reduces their expenses and costs overall.

What works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, your doctor must take the time to develop a treatment plan based on your symptoms, educate you on the type of condition you have and what is expected, schedule follow-up appointments to check on your progress, and solve any problems or consequences that arise when it comes to your treatment plan and how it affects your day-to-day life.

What if my cancer was misdiagnosed and mistreated?

If a doctor fails to recognize a sign or symptom of cancer, fails to ask you about your medical history, fails to order the proper diagnostic tests, or fails to accurately treat and monitor you, there is a good chance you have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. (The doctor and/or the hospital may be liable.) Medical errors and acts of negligence are very serious when patients have chronic conditions, in which every second of proper care and treatment counts. As a result, patients are at risk of serious harm, which may lead to additional surgeries, extensive treatments, or even death.

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