Do medicines cure? Can medicine cure? Last week, I reported that Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary does not contain the words cure, cured, cures, nor incurable. I thought it was an exception. I was wrong. It’s not an exception, it’s the rule.
I’ve done some further checking. The words “cure” and “incurable” do not appear in The Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary, Ninth Edition, 2015. They do not appear in The Bantam Medical Dictionary, Sixth Edition, 2009. “Cure” does not appear in Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms, Sixth Edition, 2013, although “incurable” is defined as “being such that a cure is impossible within the realm of known medical practice“. Medical Terminology for Dummies, Second Edition, does not contain the word “cure”.
I have already noted that “cure” is not defined and not in the index of most, if not all major medical references, including: Merck’s Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, Harrison’s Guide to Internal Medicine, and Lange’s Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. In consistent fashion the DSM 5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not contain the word “cure” in the index. Cured is not defined for mental illness.
Seriously? What is going on? Cure is truly a forbidden four letter word in medicine. Why?
Today’s medical practice has serious challenges with the word cure. There are cures, of course, and reference books like MERCK’s Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy occasionally refer to them as cures. But much of the use of the word cure in MERCK, and other references, is inconsistent. “Cure” is not well defined in medicine. A large number of the uses of the word ‘cure’ in MERCK are actually ‘incurable’ or ‘cannot be cured’. It is not scientifically possible to prove that a disease cannot be cured. I have traced this back through many editions of MERCK. Even in the 1950s “cure” hardly appeared in MERCK, was not defined, and was not used consistently. I do not have resources farther back, except the original version of MERCK, where cures were commonly suggested, but as near as I can determine, never correctly. If you do have access to earlier versions of MERCK’s editions, I would appreciate your assistance to study this question.
It is interesting to take a simple illness: scurvy, for which the cure appears to be well known. MERCK, Harrison’s, and Lange’s each contain entries for scurvy. But all recommend treatments – and do not use the word cure. Only one, MERCK, actually provides a cure – Harrison’s and Lange’s recommend a treatment that does not cure. According to the US FDA, you cannot claim a nutritional cure, for scurvy, or beriberi, unless you also “say how widespread such a disease is in the United States“. Cures are not defined by science, instead, they are “not defined” by politics.
One common use of cure, in the current edition of MERCK, and in many medical reference texts is the phrase ‘cure-rate’. But, what is cure rate if not ‘cure-wait’? A cure-wait is defined by waiting a specified period of time. If you wait 5 years, and the patient is still alive, and the patient is cannot be diagnosed with cancer, then we have established a ‘five year cure-wait’. Calling it a ‘cure-rate’ is unapologetic nonsense.
Most of the organizations that raise funds to ‘fight’ illness also avoid the word ‘cure’. The American Cancer Society’s mission statement does not contain the word ‘cure’. When cure is used, it is seldom defined, and perhaps most important, cures are not defined and not counted. If you do cure your illness, whether it be a cancer, a depression, or even something as simple as obesity, the cure is not recognized, cannot be counted. Obesity cannot be cured, because the cure is ‘not something’ and ‘not something’ cannot be a cure in today’s medical science.
Cures cannot be counted, because there are no tests for cured, because cured is not defined. Therefore: cures do not exist. There are remissions, and spontaneous remissions, but there are few cures.
One problem presented by modern medicine is this: cure is generally defined as a substance that cures. That’s why there is “no cure for the common cold“, even though every healthy person cures their own, and healthier people cure it faster. Cures accomplished by health, not medicine, are not recognized by the field of medicine. As a result, there are many invisible cures.
Can any illnesses be cured with medicine? Of course. Illnesses caused by parasites, infections, pneumonia, etc. are cured by antibiotics. Illnesses caused by fungal infections are cured by anti-fungal medications. There are well defined tests to ensure that the cure is complete. So, why does cure not appear in most medical dictionaries.
There are many illnesses that can be cured, but not by medicines. Any illness caused by a lack of healthiness – from arthritis, to depression, to heart disease and hypertension, and even obesity, cannot be cured by medicines. They are not caused by a parasite that can be killed. They can only be cured with health. All illnesses caused by deficiencies, whether it be scurvy, caused by a nutritional deficiency, or bedsores, caused by a deficiency of movement, a deficiency of physical stress – can only be cured by addressing the cause. No medicine can cure these conditions. Any illness caused by toxicity, by toxic chemicals, or even toxic social environments, cannot be cured by medicines. These can only be cured by addressing the cause.
Cure and cause are linked. But not, apparently, in modern medicine. Medicines treat symptoms, and ignore cause. As a result, cure is disappearing from our medical systems, our medical texts, our medical dictionaries, and the science and technology of medicine.
Every cause of an illness can also be viewed as a lack of healthiness, even parasitic illnesses. We don’t get an infection ‘because’ of the infecting bacteria, we get an infection because of a cut, or sometimes because of a weakness in our immune system – that would normally defend us. All illnesses are best viewed as caused by a lack of healthiness. The best medicines are those that work by improving healthiness.
But today’s medicines do not produce healthiness. Many of them actually harm healthiness, in hope that the illness will be harmed more. Today’s medicines cannot improve healthiness. So these medicines cannot cure illnesses. So cure is not in the medical dictionaries. How can we cure, if cure is not in the medical dictionary?
We need to define cure, from a scientific perspective, not from a medical perspective. We need a definition, or definitions, such that cures and be tested and found true. We need to define cure for every illness and work to improve our general and specific definitions of cure, and cured. This is the way of science. Until we do this, medicine will always be a practice of superstition, depressing symptoms, and patients and even their families, while never actually curing any illness, never claiming to cure any illness. There is a myth, that medicines are intended to cure. But it is only a myth.
Can we define cure? Can we define cured? Yes.
To cure an illness is to successfully address a cause. Note: only a specific case, only an illness can be cured. No disease, no general class of an illnesses can be cured. Every cure is an anecdote.
An illness is cured when the cause is successfully addressed. We need to cure illnesses, one at a time. A patient might have many illnesses, and many of them might be invisible until we aim to cure, until the most visible illness is cured. When we begin to study cures, we will see these patterns, and be able to predict them and treat them more effectively.
There are actually three useful, commonly understood definitions of cure:
To stop the progression of an illness, by addressing the cause.
To heal the damage caused by an illness.
To prevent future causes of an illness.
Today’s medicine is stuck on ‘symptoms’, working to treat symptoms. When we work to treat symptoms, we have a problem. A symptom, even in a single patient, whether it be a cough, or depression, or a cancer, can have many individual causes.
It is possible to be infected with TWO colds and a flu. If one is cured, it has been cured, but the patient is not yet completely cured. It is a valid, important cure – even though it doesn’t look like a cure, and many doctors, and many patients might not consider it a cure. But when we develop a science of cures, we will learn that we must cure one illness at a time.
It is also possible, and commonplace for a patient to be suffering from two or three illnesses of depressio, to be two depressed, not too depressed. There might be a depression illness caused by a nutritional deficiency. There might be a different depression illness caused by consuming toxic substances. And there might be a third depression illness caused by lack of sleep due to a stressful job, relationship, etc. Modern medicine makes no attempt to cure depression – although if you go back 50 years, most cases of depression were cured.
A disease is commonly diagnosed by symptoms, not by cause. As a result, any diagnosis of a disease might actually be several cases of illness. This makes the ‘disease’ very difficult, seemingly impossible to cure. Every illness can be cured. No disease can be cured. But today, when a disease is cured, it’s a miracle, not a medicine.
Each illness has unique cures, related to the unique cause. We can define a calculus of illness, and use it to search for causes and cures. A disease, without a cause that can be addressed, cannot be cured. If cure is not defined, if cure is not in the dictionary, we might as well be hunting a wumpus.
Once we come to this basic understanding, we can begin to cure. We can build a science of cures. We have the technology, but it is not a technology of medicine, it can only begin with a technology of language. We can put ‘cure’, cures, and cured, back into the dictionary – and work to remove ‘incurable’.
to your health, tracy
Note: The new, 2016 edition of Webster’s Medical Dictionary, does contain the word cure. However, the definitions provided are simplistic pap, food for babies, not for scientists. It offers “to make or become sound, healthy, or normal again” and “a course or period of treatment, esp: one designed to interrupt an addiction or compulsive habit or to improve general health“. Incurable also appears in this new edition, but unfortunately it is defined as “impossible to cure”, in contradiction with Barron’s definition, and in contradiction with science and common sense. It is simply not possible to prove that any illness cannot be cured, without trying every possible treatment – which is not possible.
But we can hardly fault Webster’s, or MERCK’s, or Harrison’s, or Lange’s, or Barron’s or Bantam for not publishing the word cure, or not providing a scientific definition. The fault lies in the science, or the non-science, of today’s medical practices.
—————————— First Published: Jul 20, 2016
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine, and working on the third: The Healthicine Creed.