Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Real Numbers - Not 80%

Sometimes you can make any point you wish with statistics. 
There is a statistic I hear often about childhood cancer, that the average survival rate is 80%.  That number is very misleading,   It is sort of like saying a guy drowned in a river with an average depth of three feet.  It tells only tell part of the story, and thereby distorts the truth.  I would like to share the other numbers.

The problem with the 80% is that it comes from using the same guild lines used on adult cancers. The average age of an adult with cancer is 65, and survival rates are typically tracked for 5 - 6 years.  After that, the average patient is in their 70's, making it difficult to distinguish cancer related issues from age related issues. Therefore the stats are simply not tracked after 5 years.

Pediatric cancer is very different.  The average age of a child with cancer is 7 years old. These children have many decades of life remaining...years the 80% number ignores.  A quick Google search of long term effects of childhood cancer will give you a long list of all the potential lifetime problems these children endure.  

To use just one is understandably difficult to identify all the causes of a heart attach in a 70 year old adult cancer survivor. However the connections are more obvious when data shows high percentages of childhood cancer survivors having heart attacks in their 20's and 30's.  Chronic heart, lung, and liver issues, as well as secondary cancers, are just a few of the life threatening health issues these children face.  All issues the "80%" number ignores.  

Bob Piniewski, with People Against Childhood Cancer, has put together the following chart.  It breaks the numbers down, showing the true numbers of pediatric cancer. The data is now available tracking these children for 30 years, and shows that only 22% live full and healthy lives.  And the very troubling part is this: The numbers have remained unchanged for almost 30 years.
Bob explains that, when discussing the potential future life of a child, there is a lot more than just a 5 - 6 year prognosis.  So here are the numbers broken down into the four potential outcomes.  

Outcome #1   34% die.  20% die within 6 years of diagnosis (giving the misleading "80% survive").  An additional 14% die after the 6th year, from chronic health conditions.
Outcome #2   19% live with life-threatening or disabling chronic health conditions
Outcome #3   25% live with mild to moderate chronic health conditions.
Outcome #4   22% (not 80%) live at least 30 years after diagnosis, without chronic health conditions.

And as you look at these numbers, please remember they are more than numbers.  They are children.  Bob and I first met as our teenage sons were battling the same cancer at the same time. 14 year old AJ Piniewski did  not survive.  Click on the "Heroes of Childhood Cancer" slide show in the column to the right to see the faces of these statistics.  

To read the full article, or other information from People Against Childhood Cancer, go to

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