Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo Writes Book About Cancer
‘A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention’
A World Without Cancer: The Making of a
New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention
Published by Rodale, October 2012, New York: 304 pp.
Cancer is one of the scariest words in the English language. Hearing it applied to oneself can lead to immediate onset deafness, with the inability to process anything that a doctor might be saying.
Does anyone even remember that in 1971 President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to “conquer cancer?” Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, author of this passionate, eloquent and powerful attack on cancer, certainly does.
As a board-certified radiologist who has spent much of her career diagnosing cancer and AIDS, Cuomo — daughter and sister of two New York governors — is outraged by the discouraging lack of real progress in conquering cancer.
She writes: “Why have we settled for a medical system that allows cancer to be recast as a chronic and tolerable disease rather than one we should try to prevent? Why do so many scientists at the nation’s drug companies and universities turn their backs on the possibility of prevention? How can we transform the agenda?”
Cuomo has plenty of ideas to achieve that goal.
For starters, she’d jettison the misleading paradigm of waging war on cancer, which Cuomo suspects has led both physicians and patients to be comfortable with accepting the current stalemate. She concedes that targeted treatments have prolonged patients’ lives and enabled them to live with cancer as a chronic condition, but Cuomo doesn’t think that’s good enough.
She’s a big advocate of prevention, urging that resources be committed to exploring ways that diet, exercise, environmental exposure and supplements can affect a person’s likelihood of developing cancer. Cuomo is also frustrated that the medical and scientific community hasn’t done enough to use vaccines and other preventive therapies, and that proven, effective public health strategies and messages haven’t reached a wider audience.
While Cuomo emphasizes how important it is to find cancer early, before it’s had a chance to spread and metastasize, she cautions that screening isn’t necessarily the panacea that people believe. As she writes: “The problem is that many of our current tools for identifying cancer early aren’t ideal. … Patients and their doctors are understandably confused about who should be screened, for what and when.”
Cuomo is such a clear, beautiful writer that complex scientific concepts are accessible even to the non-scientific. She explains why there is debate within the medical community about the risks and benefits of many screenings and treatments. One of her major points is that “one of the best opportunities we have to use screening more wisely is to consider the individual circumstance of every patient. There’s a significant difference between screening all healthy people for all cancers and targeting our tests more specifically to those who are most likely to develop a disease, or are most concerned about it.”
Not surprisingly, Cuomo’s big idea is the creation of a National Cancer Prevention Institute. This program would be built into the National Institutes of Health, designed to coordinate the multi-faceted activities within the government and to achieve making “cancer prevention a national priority.” The focus would be on using applied epidemiology, examining how diseases are distributed across populations and how these could be better controlled.
Cuomo embraces a political and personal agenda along with a medical one. She urges people to take responsibility for their own health, by discussing screenings with their physicians, avoiding tobacco, using sun protection, and paying attention to diet and exercise.
“We have an urgent need to focus our tremendous resources — both financial and intellectual — on a coordinated and collaborative prevention strategy,” she writes. It’s time to stop wasting time on this critical issue, and follow her wise advice. #