‘Modern Medicine’ cannot perform ‘miracles’

I accept after 3 decades as cancer surgeon that ‘modern medicine’ has many limitations though there are impressive advances.Well I realized it quite early in my medical career that there no magical cures

What I am concerned however is the public perception. As we deal with a disease like Cancer or even other chronic ailments, sometimes expectations of patients are so high that they do expect modern medicine to perform miracles. Unfortunately this is not so.

Recently I had a friend diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. He was absolutely normal when e was diagnosed as stage 4 lung cancer. The only option was chemotherapy. The family wanted to do “everything” for him. He had to undergo multiple cycles of chemotherapy. After initial response the disease relapsed. At this point he was indeed fed up of treatment as with each cycle he was becoming weaker and quality of life was suffering, but the family always had hope, sometimes disbelief that things are actually going wrong, and persisted in trying newer drugs, less proven therapies and finally the end was inevitable.

This leads to a common perception that the treatment was inadequate and the disease is uniformly fatal which is indeed not the fact.

The disease causation and progression are complex. We as doctors can at best offer only what is the best available and scientifically proven treatment. We are as human as our patients and we go through the same emotions of happiness and many times despair when treatments fail.

I was recently reading a book by Atul Gawande on ‘Being mortal’. How many of us and our patients actually accept that every human being and every cell in the living being is actually programmed to die?

Apoptosis in a cell is to stop working at a certain point of time, which is perhaps determined in the genetic code itself.

Finally, it depends on the time of the diagnosis. There are hundreds and thousands who have been diagnosed in the early stage and remain well, have a great quality of life. As I always emphasize, it is best to

prevent and is always much better to diagnose early. At the advanced stage even modern medicine cannot perform miracles!

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