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Cancer Research 101: By the Numbers…

Saturday, January 14, 2012

By the Numbers…

I confess: I'm not usually one who is very fond of cancer statistics. I find that statistics can be rather dry and, taken the wrong way, can often be quite misleading. I prefer to tell stories, create analogies and metaphors, and to try and give examples of where cancer research has really impacted the lives of real people across our country and beyond our borders.

That said, sometimes showing a few numbers can be the right thing to do.

People still widely believe that cancer is an inevitable death sentence. This is simply not true. Consider the improvement in"survival rates" since the 1940’s and you will see what I mean. In the 1940’s, anyone diagnosed with cancer (that is, any cancer and at any stage) indeed had only about a 25% chance, on average, of surviving that diagnosis. By the 1960’s that number was probably up to about 33%. I wonder if you appreciate that today, thanks largely to advances in cancer research, the average five-year survival of someone newly diagnosed with cancer (again, that is any cancer at any stage) is about 62% and climbing. That means that nearly 2/3 of all individuals diagnosed with cancer today will survive that diagnosis.Obviously, we still have a very long way to go before we achieve the ultimate success of everyone surviving a cancer diagnosis, but one needs to appreciate that the numbers keep getting better and better. We are creating more and more survivors, and that is something indeed to celebrate!

In subsequent posts, I will explore some further statistics behind individual cancers and talk about the idea of "curing"cancers. I will also post about the issue of cancer “survivorship”, because it is not enough to extend the quantity of one's life, one has to look very importantly at the quality of that life as well.

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