BLISS #4 Hope for Cancer Patients

15 May

There are only about 1000 oncologists in Japan (while there are over 14,000 of them in the U.S), and Noriyuki Katsumata, M.D. is one of them.  He is the professor of the department of medical oncology at Nippon Medical School.

Several years ago, a book written by a famous radiologist named Makoto Kondo became a best seller. His main message was to do “nothing” if you’re diagnosed with cancer, regardless of the type or stage of the cancer or the patient’s age:  no surgery, no radiation, no chemotherapy. His extreme view resonated with so many people in Japan who already had deep doubts about modern cancer treatment.  Since then, Kondo has written a number of bestsellers on the same topic.

This has presented a new challenge for oncologists like Katsumata. He often sees patients who followed Kondo’s advice and did nothing, and as a result their cancer has spread. By this time patients are remorseful about believing Kondo’s advice, but it’s too late to undo the damage.

“I don’t want to see any more patients in this situation. That’s why I’m speaking out about it,” said Katsumata. He has written books to explain how proper cancer treatment works, and why Kondo’s assertion is wrong and unethical.

Katsumata is also deeply concerned about what he calls the “terminal cancer business” widely spread in Japan where it’s legal for doctors to provide unapproved treatment to patients.

“For instance, if I tell you that a glass of water may cure your cancer and sell it to you for $10,000, I won’t get arrested or lose my license. If this was in the U.S, I’d be arrested,” said Katsumata.

Some doctors are taking advantage of patients with terminal illnesses who are desperate for a cure. Yet, some claim that these doctors are giving patients hope, and that it doesn’t hurt to try a “treatment” if it has a potential to cure an illness.

“The main problem here is that these doctors are not telling patients the truth. If they’re saying that these are non-approved treatments without evidence, that’s one thing. But they’re not saying that,” Katsumata said.

“Another problem is that they’re charging patients a huge amount of money. Treatments that have not been approved should be provided as a clinical trial, and it should be offered for free for participants.”

Katsumata is also a supporter of music therapy. He is a singer songwriter, a guitarist, and a pianist. In the Bliss interview, he sings a song he composed with his patient. The song is about finding joy and hope in small things (The song starts at 44:08).

“Working in medicine is tough. You see so many things that are not normal. But music brings me back to myself. When playing music I feel like a normal person again,” his voice softened as he talked about his love for music.

You can listen to the episode here.

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