Remarkably, Medicines to Deter Cancers Are Not Taken

Nov 13th, 2009 | By John Waller | Category: Health

By GINA KOLATA – The New York Times

Cecilia Anderson, a cancer patient, shopped for organic food in Houston, though studies have not showed that diet can help with cancer.

Cecilia Anderson, a cancer patient, shopped for organic food in Houston, though studies have not showed that diet can help with cancer.

Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored.

Forty Years’ War

A Path Not Used

Take prostate cancer, the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, surpassed only by easily treated skin cancers. More than 192,000 cases of it will be diagnosed this year, and more than 27,000 men will die from it.

And, it turns out, there is a way to prevent many cases of prostate cancer. A large and rigorous study found that a generic drug, finasteride, costing about $2 a day, could prevent as many as 50,000 cases each year. Another study found that finasteride’s close cousin, dutasteride, about $3.50 a day, has the same effect.

Nevertheless, researchers say, the drugs that work are largely ignored. And supplements that have been shown to be not just ineffective but possibly harmful are taken by men hoping to protect themselves from prostate cancer.

As the nation’s war on cancer continues, with little change in the overall cancer mortality rate, many experts on cancer and public health say more attention should be paid to prevention.

But prevention has proved more difficult than many imagined. It has been devilishly difficult to show conclusively that something simple like eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising regularly helps. And, as the response to the prostate drugs shows, people are not enthusiastic about taking anticancer pills, or are worried about side effects or not really convinced the drugs work. Others are just unaware of them.

And prostate cancer is not unique. Scientists have what they consider definitive evidence that two drugs can cut the risk of breast cancer in half. Women and doctors have pretty much ignored the findings.

This article from the New York Times By Gina Kolata continues here: Forty Years’ War – Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken – Series – NYTimes.com

Leave Comment