So cancer death rates are going down. This is good. What’s left out of all the news coverage is the question: So what’s going up. Face it, we all die. The all cause, all age mortality rate isn’t changing as fast as cancer, stroke, and heart disease. What’s going up then? Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Hypertensive Disease among others. Now, the increases in these diseases aren’t as large as the decreases for the others (our life expectancy is going up), but it’s the other side of the coin that you rarely see in news coverage.
Cancer is down, so is quality of life.
By getting better at treating disease, we’ve got more people with disease on our hands. This isn’t about me thinking that the press should be scientific, it has real consequences. I’ve posted before on the horrible job we do taking care of the elderly (if you haven’t read the New Yorker article I link to in the post, go do it now!). The real challenge to medicine right now is how to train doctors to take care of the elderly, who many times have multiple disease processes and bodies that can’t keep up with the wear and tear of daily life anymore. It’s a pretty un-glamourous job but nothing could be more important.
“Curing” cancer may be exciting, prestigeous, and result in numbers we can all talk about, but when we neglect the care of those elderly persons who have had their lives extended, the victory seems pretty hollow for me.
PS Heart Disease is down but apparently “people aren’t scared enough of heart disease”. I say ‘good!’; this is how I want to go, you can keep your stroke, cancer, alzheimer’s, and parkinson’s.