On Science: The Tragedy of Breast Cancer Treatment

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” -Arthur C. Clarke

If there was ever a time to feel as though we were living in the future, that time is now. What we’ve been able to do with modern medicine can only be described as magic, and what we’ve been able to achieve is miraculous when we consider the breadth of human history. We’ve eradicated numerous diseases, we’ve cured countless illness, and we’ve trivialized prehistoric pathologies. People are living longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives, fewer and fewer children die young, and for nearly anyone suffering, medicine can offer the possibility for a better tomorrow. If there is anything that makes me optimistic about the future, it’s what we’ve been able to give people with medicine — a second chance at life, a future that’s filled with hope, a choice beyond simply dying.

After 3 decades, it feels like we’ve made no progress — what was it all for?

From blood letting to leeches to snake oils, the history of medicine is filled with examples of doctors harming their patients under the false belief that what they were doing was beneficial. But in my opinion, what distinguishes breast cancer treatment is the modernity in which our shortcomings have occurred and how little we’ve managed to progress despite our technological achievements.

They did the best they could with the knowledge they had for women in hopelessly terrible situations. This hasn’t changed.

It hasn’t been that we’ve made no progress because we’ve made enormous strides in the medical therapies available and improvements to surgical technique used to treat breast cancer. And if you think I’m suggesting that we’ve helped no one with breast cancer, then you’re gravely mistaken. The fact of the matter is that breast cancer mortality has decreased due to advancements in therapy, and there is not a doubt in my mind that we’ve saved countless lives. However, the one metric that we should be measuring ourselves by is the one metric that we utterly fail at — the treatment of young women with triple negative breast cancer.

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