Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it.
Scientists marvel at this good news, a medical mystery of the best sort and one that is often overlooked as advocacy groups emphasize the toll of diseases and the need for more funds. Still, many are puzzled.
Of course, these diseases are far from gone. They still cause enormous suffering and kill millions each year.
But it looks as if people in the United States and some other wealthy countries are, unexpectedly, starting to beat back the diseases of aging. The leading killers are still the leading killers — cancer, heart disease, stroke — but they are occurring later in life, and people in general are living longer in good health.
Colon cancer is the latest conundrum. While the overall cancer death rate has been declining since the early 1990s, the plunge in colon cancer deaths is especially perplexing: The rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent since its peak in the 1980s, noted Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and Dr. Douglas J. Robertson…in a recent paper…
Screening, they say, is only part of the story. “The magnitude of the changes alone suggests that other factors must be involved,” they wrote. None of the studies showing the effect of increased screening for colon cancer have indicated a 50 percent reduction in mortality, they wrote, “nor have trials for screening for any type of cancer.”
The discussion is ongoing throughout the scientific world. Physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical types – of course. Most specialists are trying to discover if their specialty gets credit. I’m of the school that presumes a truly complex dialectic of improvements in lifestyle provide the base for this change.
I look at this over the span of 60 years or more. What I’ve witnessed in my adult life:
Causes outside of lifestyle innovation include vaccines – removing the stresses of illnesses from diphtheria, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, influenza, etc.. Add in fluoridation of water – fewer dental stressors, removing lead from gasoline, diminishing acid rain, ending coal in home heating.
Causes within lifestyle personal choice include aerobic exercise – especially jogging and walking – fitness including lifetime sports [this more so outside the US excepting racquet sports], myriad of diets – even fad diets – all mostly increase dietary fibre.
The sum of all this is a healthier lifestyle in the United States. A change taking place over a longer scale than most examinations. While other smaller countries may surpass the US model – for the same reasons – medium and large educated nations are fast accomplishing the same. And we affect each other – again, reinforcing the dialectic sum.