What it means when your doctor says . . . . We live in exciting times

November 18, 2013
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I really get quite excited when I think about the history of medicine. I studied it at school, long before I was a doctor, learning about Galen’s humours and Jenner’s smallpox.

It is fascinating to think how far we have come in terms of treating and curing illnesses: antibiotics, genetics, imaging have changed the landscape of medicine and even in the 12 years since I qualified, medicine has evolved at a truly mind-blowing rate.

This month I have spoken on the news about advances in cancer that are set to revolutionise treatment: truly history in the making.

Cervical cancer is linked to a virus known as HPV and research suggests now that we can focus in on those carriers of HPV for cancer screening and prevention, rather than mass population screening.
This targeted approach not only saves money, it allows resources to be focused on the right individuals leading to earlier treatment and better outcomes.

It also means we are saved hopefully from the pain of false positives. A false positive is when a screening test wrongly identifies someone as having a problem and that person goes on to have treatment or invasive investigations that are unnecessary. Targetting screening will reduce this difficult situation.

And on to breast cancer. Research published this month has demonstrated that the disease should no longer be thought of as one illness but in fact seven different illnesses each with their own prognosis and treatment plan. This will lead to tailor-made regimes and focused treatment plans.

Again this will aim resources right where they are needed and avoid unnecessary treatment for those with “milder” disease. What an amazing breakthrough compared to the shot-in-the-dark treatment for breast cancer used to be.

We live in exciting times. The charity Breast Cancer Campaign has made it its aim to overcome breast cancer by 2050. At the rate medical science is evolving, I feel as optimistic as it does.

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Last updated: 4:16pm, November 18 2013