Hope or Hype: The Obsession with Medical Advances and the High Cost of False Promises

By Richard A. Deyo; Donald L. Patrick | Go to book overview

9

"Cancer Cured—Film at 11:00"
The Media's Role in Disseminating
Medical Advances

Be careful about reading health books; you may die of a misprint. —Mark Twain1
No disease has been "cured" as repeatedly as cancer has.—Rick Weiss, Washington

Post2

ON ALMOST a daily basis, I (Rick) have patients who bring me newspaper clippings on medical breakthroughs—breakthroughs that they want to try. Sometimes the clippings are from the National Enquirer, sometimes from the Seattle Times, and sometimes from the Internet. Sometimes they describe treatments that no one has ever tried in human beings. No matter what the source or the stage of development, all seem equally credible. When it's in print, it must be true.

When I suggest that these things aren't available, or that they aren't ready for prime time, or that it would be dangerous to try something so untested, I'm sometimes met with skepticism or assertiveness: "Well, would you call the University of Winona and see if you can get it?" "Well, maybe the government has it." "If they're testing it, I'll sign up."

You might suspect that such patients have cancer or terminal illness and are grasping at straws. But most often they're concerned about the vexations of daily life: arthritis, back pain, headaches, and the like. Such eagerness is testimony to the suffering these patients experience. Perhaps

-115-

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