CANCER IN THE IRISH FREE STATE


Heart disease and tuberculosis are intelligible diseases, usually painless and nearly always holding out to their victims an indefinite stretch of life if they live carefully; accordingly sufferers from either of them receive plenty of encouragement and are hopeful. The position with cancer is very different.


IT is undeniable that the cancer peril is steadily increasing in the Irish Free State and it is quite apparent that the public are being demoralized by the horror and mystery of it. The mortality from diseases of the heart and from tuberculosis still holds first and second place respectively in the death statistics, and is in every way as serious a problem but it does not arouse as much apprehension as the frequency of appearance of cancerous growths.

Heart disease and tuberculosis are intelligible diseases, usually painless and nearly always holding out to their victims an indefinite stretch of life if they live carefully; accordingly sufferers from either of them receive plenty of encouragement and are hopeful. The position with cancer is very different.

About no other disease does the ordinary person display so much fear and abysmal ignorance, and indeed not without certain reason; for never in the history of medicine has there been a disease about whose causation so much nonsense is being spoken and in whose treatment such savagery and senselessness are being displayed with such tragic results. Cancer is a very dangerous disease, especially at the time it usually comes along for treatment, but viewed realistically, it is neither very horrible nor hopeless.

It has been made far worse in the minds of the public by alarmist cancer campaigners and by the obiter dicta of people who know nothing about it, not to speak about the frightful results of its orthodox treatment by knife and ray. This morbid environment in which it is enveloped has actually raised serious and difficult problems in the domain of psychopathology.

Hordes of timid people and neurotics are tortured by the folie de cancer, vague fears that they have, or may have, the disease; some are even driven into consulting rooms to be satisfied, and, needless to say, are driven out again unsatisfied. The ordinary doctor is as ignorant as they are themselves; and, in cases where they prove incorrigible, he pushes them on to a colleagues for X-radiation or gastroscopy or sigmoidoscopy or some other meaningless and expensive form of medical prying.

The so called cancer authorities here are helpless to stem the slowly mounting tide of the disease and they throw the blame on lack of funds for research purposes. The Government of the Irish Free State makes no provision for footing the bill and the public are ungenerous despite great intimidation. Some years ago the City of Dublin Skin and Cancer Hospital, a private institution, held itself out to have taken on the responsibility of national research work.

It flourished its knives and invited the public to come forward with their lumps and moles and deluged the land with repulsive leaflets and tracts, and a great deal of touting for funds was initiated up and down the country. But it only succeeded in getting itself into disfavour with other hospitals and with the medical authorities; and its etiquette, methods and treatment were the subject of acrid criticism by leading orthodox representatives of medicine in the Free State Senate.

Not that the latter gentleman had any other different and loftier views on how cancer should be treated; but they discovered that “an attempt was being made to make a corner in cancer in Ireland”; and I am sure it was resented that well paying patients could not be shared around. This hospital is now practically under a boycott and is excluded from the benefits of the sweepstakes.

The enactment of the public Charitable Hospitals (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1930, which established sweepstakes for a period of four years turned an unexpected tide of gold into many of the leading hospitals in Dublin. It was purely a temporary measure but its success was so startling that recently the law has been changed making these sweepstakes permanent with a supervisory body known as “The Hospitals Commission” and making provision for medical research.

Any day now there is likely to be seen the birth of a full blown cancer research organization with unlimited funds to imitate the medical pyrotechnics of similar bodies elsewhere. Science will put on motley; every learned buffoon will vie with his fellows in periodically discovering the “microbe” and the “specific,” and the half witted and brutal ogre in the vivisection laboratory will be given money and encouragement to intensify his schreck-lichkeit on helpless animals.

Before proceeding to view the statistics and explanation of cancer in the Irish Free State, it is advisable to say something about that part of Ireland. It has a population of about three million people of whom a half are engaged in agriculture, which is still mainly of the stock raising and dairying type despite a great increase of tillage in recent years. Throughout great portion of the countryside the main food products consumed are bread, potatoes, cabbage, vegetables, eggs, meat and bacon.

Peter O Connell