Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cancer Mortality Rates

I can't really think of a good way to reconcile this article on the mortality rates among cancer patients with other articles that I've read recently.

The New York Times says that mortality rates have been stagnant over the past 60 years. TIME Magazine says that there's been a steady decline over the same period. Is this just a different spin on the same data?

Perhaps the editors of TIME Magazine think that a five percent decline over 60 years is "significant," while the New York Times' editorial board sees it as "nearly the same"? I can't really say for sure, since TIME doesn't offer a specific number.

I do have trouble believing that advances in medical technology -- like the development of computed tomography and its use in intensity-modulated radiation therapy -- have had such a negligible impact on death rates.

It's possible that some high-risk cancer treatments have done more harm than good. But even if this is true, most treatments seem to be far more effective than they were 60 years ago. Shouldn't the benefits outweigh the costs, even when we account for risky or over-proscribed treatments?

I know it's a controversial view, but I suspect part of the problem is that people are more likely to get cancer today than they were in the past. We're certainly exposed to many more carcinogens today than we were 60 years ago, and the evidence seems to indicate that environmental factors are the major cause of most cancers . . . .

The truth is, I really don't know much about this. But I'd like to see a more comprehensive study on the subject.

It seems like we're missing something here, doesn't it?

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