Very interesting debate. Yes I can see how it seems like medicine is out to take your money by giving you drugs for long periods of time. Part of this is because drug companies make more money selling drugs you have to take for a long time, so they spend more time developing those drugs rather than those that can cure people and only have to be taken for a short time. The best example I can think of is antibiotics. Antibiotics cause cures all the time. People have an infection because of the presence of a bacteria, they take an antibiotic and the bacteria die and the person is cured of the bacterial infection. Unfortunately, less money is spent on developing antibiotics then drugs you take for a long time,i.e., heart burn, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, etc... I say unfortunately because antibiotics are increasingly becoming less effective as bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs we have, so newer antibiotics need to be developed.
This is not to say that the thousands of scientist out there working in the bio-medical field are all out to make it rich on developing some drug you have to take for the rest of your life. In fact most scientists, including myself, are motivated not by money, but by the potential to make a difference in people's lives. We do want to help humanity, that is why we have devoted our lives to learning how the body works.
The notion of science as a religion is a different debate, but also one worth having.
One thing to realize when you see things reported in the news that say things like eggs are bad for you one day, then they say they are good for you the next day, or other examples like that, is that what you are hearing is the news. The news is written by non-scientists who are trying to write about a complex subject, but write it for someone with a 5th grade education. Scientists are not very good at communication and don't often switch careers to news reporter. Further, what are usually reported in the news are epidemiology studies, because they are studies in humans, so you don't have the "Yes that happens in mice, but does it happen in humans debate". However, epidemiology studies by themselves can't prove anything, not one single thing. Epidemiology studies have very little control over what is called confounding factors which can mask what is really going on. All an epidemiology study can show you is that two things are associated, it can't tell you if one is causing the other. So for example, you can do a study to show that eating ice cream causes skin cancer. If you look, I'm sure you can see that correlation. However that does not mean that ice cream causes skin cancer. If you look into it you can see that people eat more ice cream when it is hot out, they also go to the beach more and wear less clothes when it is hot out. Less close, mean more exposure to the sun, which has ultraviolet light and can cause skin cancer. So the amount of ice cream eaten is a confounding factor that is associated with the rate of skin cancer, but does not cause skin cancer. Now epidemiology studies can only tell you there is an association, so they can't say that eating ice cream is the cause of skin cancer, though it may look like that from the data. What is needed is other supportive data, such as well controlled animal studies where the only thing different between animals if is they are exposed to UV, ice cream, or nothing. However that data is boring to most people and they always question if it happens in a mouse then that doesn't mean it happens in humans, so that data is never reported in the news. So basically what you see in the news is not science, it's the fluff that reporters try to pass off as science. Science is complex and not always well written at a 5th grade level.
Another example of a cure, this one on a personal level, is physical therapy. I had some knee trouble because the muscles on the outer side of my leg were stronger than the muscles on the inside of my leg, so it would pull on my knee cap and make it rub when I walked. With physical therapy, I got specific exercises to strengthen the muscles on the inside of my leg. So after a month or two of strengthening specific muscles my knee was fine again, the muscle strengths were evenly balanced and so I was cured.
There are even cures in cancer. The most common forms of skin cancer, or all cancer for that matter, are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are cancers and if untreated will grow and eat away at surrounding tissue. However these are treated and in over 90% of the cases the patient is cured, no cancer left and it will never come back.
Various surgeries offer cures as they are permanent changes to the body. Healing broken bones are cures, putting fillings in teeth are cures for that specific cavity. Emergency medicine involves lots of cures. There are medical problems that need to be addressed right away or the patient might die and many of these treatments stop that problem and the problem gone. Treating heat exhaustion or dehydration, stopping bleeding, and many trauma injuries are cured. Closer to my profession, treatments for many poisonings are cures. A farmer comes into the hospital after getting splashed with an organophosphate pesticide and gets atropine and 2-PAM, then goes home the next day, that person is cured. In many cases, though not all (antibiotics), medicine alone is not enough to cure, but medicine allows the body to cure itself. In the case of the organophosphate poisoning, atropine and 2-PAM keep the person from dying of the toxicities of the organophosphate, but what really is doing the cure is the body. The body metabolizes the organophosphate and takes it out of the body into the urine. When the person urinates they get rid of the organophosphate and are cured. The same can be said for vaccines, you give a vaccine so the body reacts and recognizes an antigen so it can kill the virus or bacteria that has that antigen, but the vaccine itself is not causing the cure, it is the immune cells in the body that cause the cure, the vaccine just gets the process started.
This is a good debate, but I think I'm starting to ramble, so I will stop here, but the botXXXXX XXXXXne is yes, medicine does have many examples of cures. The public's perception however is the opposite, that we have no cures only long-term drug treatments. While there are many cases of chronic diseases that are not cured, the media does not help the situation by confusing the public when they take a complex subject and try to simplify it. Lastly, yes there is some truth to the notion that drug companies are spending most of their efforts to make drugs that you have to take for a long time, however, they are for-profit companies and the purpose of for-profit companies is to make money, not philanthropy. Same goes for health insurance companies, they are in the business of making money, it's just that they choose to make money off of your health, their botXXXXX XXXXXne, is still the botXXXXX XXXXXne.
Very interesting debate, thanks for asking the question, good luck with it.
Andy PhD DABT, Toxicologist
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