After my mother passed away from a rare and torturous form of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, I told my uncle I was interested in doing a documentary about cancer. My uncle sympathetically responded, “Jeff they’re already doing so much, cancer raises a lot of money, there is awareness commercials…” and so on.
Having been so hands on during my mother’s illness, I reached the conclusion that we can be doing so much better as far as preventing and curing cancer. Further, that there is more the public should know, and if they did, it might galvanize them to the cause; which in turn would spark the government to do more, affecting the scientific community, and leading to better results.
This brings me to an article The American Cancer Society recently released with the following headline:
The “fact” that supports this claim, according to the ACS, is: “Annual statistics reporting from the American Cancer Society shows the death rate from cancer in the US has fallen 22% from its peak in 1991”.
So, death rates falling by 22%, and 1.5 million deaths avoided? Sounds pretty good. Maybe my uncle is right? And truly beneath the surface there is some good that makes those numbers possible… However, Chris Wark does an in-depth analysis of how numbers like these are arrived at that reveal them to be not as promising as they sound. I encourage you to watch this video (based on a similar ACS article from the previous year) and see how he breaks it down.
Chris uses data and screen shots from the ACS, and The National Cancer Institute, so despite his “alternative” background that may be a turn off to some, Wark (from ChrisBeatCancer.com) relies on mainstream data to illustrate his points.
What concerns me about the ACS article, that was also distributed by other outlets such as The Huffington Post, FOX News, ABCNewsRadio, Twitter, etc., is the numbers the article leads off with may convey a narrative that implies we are doing far better than we are.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that any progress in the fight against cancer is good progress. And most of the time I would agree with that sentiment. But not if that incremental progress stands in the way of what could and should be bigger progress.
If cancer was a political issue there would be far more attention by the media, and scrutiny of all the data. For example, if a status report on the facts and figures about the economy, war on terror, response to the Ebola virus, use of guns, social security, etc., was released, whichever political party was in power would likely spin the numbers or statement in as positive of a manner as possible. The party not in power would present different numbers and or the same numbers differently in trying to show a negative picture.
We also see checks and balances play out in a court of law. There would a lot more people in jail if there was no such thing as a defense lawyer… Or a lot more people free if there were no prosecutors.
But I want to get back to politics because politicians of all ilk, when they want the public to do nothing, to accept the status quo, and trust that they are doing a good job, they are the ones that put a shiny bow on everything. Oh they may trot out some cliché like, “we still have more work do”, but that is usually followed up with “but things are going in the right direction” and “now is not the time to change course”. Conversely the other side would point to the dangers of not changing course, and use fear in an effort to motivate action. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
In the struggle against cancer people hear the dollars being allocated to research cancer, hear of the “promising new cures” that are on the way, and hear numbers like 1.5 million deaths avoided, and my concern is they think it is okay to just leave it be. The people in charge are doing what they can. Well the people in charge in this instance is the billion dollar cancer industry. Like the political party in power, the billion dollar cancer industry may want you to think they have it under control: don’t look under the hood, move along, nothing to see here.
Unlike politics or a court of law, there is not a powerful counteracting force to spark the public or instigate debate. Yes there is an alternative and complimentary community that is slowly growing and may someday rise to a level where they can be heard on mass, but that day is not today. And just like political parties will do everything they can to make their rivals look foolish and irrelevant, so to will many in the mainstream in the cancer industry do so to those in the alternative world who would challenge their ways.
This isn’t about conspiracy theories. There are a lot of good, in fact great people at ACS and within the cancer mainstream devoting themselves to preventing, fighting and curing cancer. Conversely people in the alternative community don’t all wear halos. But nearly 600,000 people are projected to die from cancer this year. Homeland security was formed after less than 3,000 U.S. Deaths due to 9/11. Since 1991 there may have been 1.5 million deaths avoided but there were approximately 11 to 12 million deaths due to cancer that were NOT avoided. By comparison, if you total the amount of U.S. Deaths from ALL wars, from the revolutionary war in 1775, WWI, WWII, to the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, everything! That total is less than 1.35 million. A tragic number in its own right, but one that pales in comparison to cancer. I’m not suggesting we should do less to prevent war, or terrorism. I am saying we should do a lot more to prevent and cure cancer.
The presentation of 1.5 million deaths avoided reminds me of one of those car commercials where they talk about some big sale and how much money you can save. Well despite the balloons in the commercial and booming voice, even with the sale, the price of the car is oftentimes too high. Today the price we are paying for cancer is still way to high… And now nearly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with it. As Wark points out, with so many more people being diagnosed with cancer, many of them earlier because of detection techniques, and many of them with non deadly cancers, of course survivor numbers are going to look better. But as has so often been said, looks can be deceiving…And statistics can be misleading…
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