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Commentary

Cancer Prognosis
Wall Street Journal, 2-23-06

This Journal editorial focuses on a welcome bit of news from the National Center for Health Statistics that flew under the media’s radar screen two weeks ago. The NCHS reported that, despite an aging American population, cancer deaths have declined for the first time in many years.

This achievement against one of mankind's most dreaded diseases is the medical equivalent of putting a man on the moon. Just a few years ago health officials warned of an epidemic of U.S. cancer deaths. One and a half million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year. And with a toll of half a million deaths a year, cancer is still one of the leading killers in America -- partly because death rates from infectious diseases have fallen precipitously over the past century. But the National Cancer Institute rightly hails the new data as "powerful evidence" that "we are on the right track to eliminating the death and suffering due to cancer." …
Why is cancer death falling? One leading reason has been the positive health effects from a decline in smoking. Tobacco use has tumbled by about half since the 1964 Surgeon General's report on the health hazards of smoking. The other major factors are early detection and better treatment. Both are the result of medical innovation funded by government, private donations, and profit-making bio-medical and pharmaceutical companies. …

The Journal reminds its readers that U.S. progress in the struggle against cancer is in “marked contrast to the anti-cancer record of government-run health systems elsewhere,” where new cancer treatments are rationed and cancer patients face much greater odds on surviving. In short, “government-run medical systems” that put cost containment before health care “can be as cruel to cancer patients as the cancer itself.”



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